Research Matters

Research Matters

Bumper Stickers

Whitney Baker, associate librarian at KU Libraries, has developed new methods to safeguard a less-typical holding in a library's collection: bumper stickers.

Episode #85

2 minutes (2.8 MB) | Download mp3


A Researcher works to preserve bumper stickers, a Kansas invention. From the University of Kansas, this is Research Matters. I'm Brendan Lynch.

Whitney Baker typically spends her time repairing and maintaining rare books and manuscripts. But recently, the associate librarian at KU Libraries has been developing new methods to safeguard a less-typical holding in a library's collection: bumper stickers.

Baker: "I was in Spencer Research Library one day and noticed a patron using bumper stickers. And it got me thinking about bumper stickers – how they are preserved, and what they are made of. I realized I hadn't seen any information in our professional literature about their manufacture or preservation."

To develop preservation protocols, Baker took a sabbatical and conducted extensive research into bumper stickers. As she delved into the origins of bumper stickers, she found their history led back to Kansas.

Baker: It's generally accepted that they were developed in the late 40s and early 50s. Most people attribute the creation of the bumper sticker to a man named Forest P. Gill, who was a screen printer from Kansas City, Kan. His company is still in the Kansas City area, just down the road. So I think we can claim the bumper sticker as a Kansas invention.

Soon after their development, bumper stickers became popular as souvenirs of travel, sporting events and county fairs, according to Baker. They also were employed to mount public safety campaigns and were first manufactured for political reasons during the Eisenhower-Stevenson presidential races of 1952 and 1956.

Baker: The earliest bumper stickers were printed on paper. They were usually screen-printed. Early on they used daylight florescent inks so they would glow. As time progressed, vinyl became more important because paper stickers wouldn't hold up to the environment. They also lefty a gummy residue that people didn't like on their cars. So the adhesives have changed to more removable types.

For more on bumper stickers, log on to Research Matters dot K-U dot E-D-U.

For the University of Kansas, I'm Brendan Lynch.

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