12 Most Artful Presidential Campaign Posters of All Time

In its new book, the Library of Congress celebrates the past two hundred years of presidential campaign poster art.

By David Noonan and Caitlin O'Connell
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    Political junkies and art lovers, rejoice!

    This year, the Library of Congress has published Presidential Campaign Posters: Two Hundred Years of Election Art, celebrating the signs that came long before TV commercials became the chief medium for communicating with voters. Political campaigns often relied on the decidedly low-tech method to get their candidates' names, images, and messages out. But what these old-school promos lacked in reach—potential voters had to pass a poster, and even then they might not notice it—they made up for with visual impact and artistic quality, which is why they have endured to this day.

    The oversized (11"x14") tome from Quirk Books includes 100 ready-to-frame posters. Here are 12 of our favorites.

    1848: Taylor

    General Zachary Taylor appears the ultimate warrior in this color woodcut, sitting astride his horse as the heavens praise his victories. The piece, simply titled Union, bears no indication of Taylor's party or platform. He's a manly man, after all; no further explanations needed.

    1856: Buchanan

    Nasty campaigns are an American tradition, as this broadside against "ten cent Jimmy" Buchanan vividly illustrates. "We'll hit him in the head with a chunk of old lead" sums up the opposition's position quite succinctly. Despite the appeal to "Hunkers" (conservative New York Democrats) to "Fire Away" at fellow Democrat Buchanan, he handily defeated Republican James Fremont.

    1860: Lincoln

    Before he was reincarnated as Vampire Hunter, Abraham Lincoln ran on a pro-Union ticket as the nation teetered on Civil War. Abe meant business when it came to preserving the Union, and his cause is evident in his use of a simple American flag for his poster.

    1908: Taft

    It's no coincidence that this poster of William "Bill" Taft resembles a merry Father Christmas. Fortunately for the little-known Republican candidate, he bore a striking resemblance to a then-newly popularized cartoon of a round and jolly St. Nick.

    1944: Dewey

    In running against a much older FDR, New York Governor Thomas Dewey used his youthfulness as a focal point in his campaign. However, Dewey may have taken that approach too far with this school-bus yellow campaign poster featuring a cartoonish elephant and a rhyming slogan.

    1960: Kennedy

    That hair, that smile, those clean, strong, locks of red, white and blue. As this poster makes clear, JFK's 1960 campaign was all about youth and "vigah." That he was such a handsome son-of-a-gun didn't hurt, either.

    1964: Johnson

    It's always a good thing if your initials rhyme with USA. LBJ's dead serious expression sends a message of strength and determination, and he's clearly man enough for the job—his left ear is bigger than the Great Lakes.

    1968: Romney

    Like his fuel-efficient Rambler, George Romney's campaign poster is simple and crisp. In contrast to the stereotype of a used car salesman, the smiling face of the former head of American Motors conveys a sense of trustworthiness and dependability.

    1968: Kennedy

    Wait, is this a poster for a presidential campaign or a concert at San Francisco's Avalon Ballroom? The cartoony caricature, the swirling typography, the bright colors and the youthful "Bobby" combine to give this poster its unmistakeable '60s energy. That this buoyant campaign was ended by murder is cruel irony.

    1968: McCarthy

    Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy, an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, was the first Democrat to challenge LBJ for the nomination and scored a strong second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary before winning in Wisconsin and Oregon. But McCarthy's campaign for peace lost momentum once Robert Kennedy entered the race.

    1984: Reagan

    As much a movie poster as a campaign poster, "Bringing America Back!" features a grandfatherly Ronald Reagan as the leading man of the next four years. Who better to steer the country to economic recovery after a recession than the Gipper.

    2008: Obama

    The campaign that gave America it's first black president deserved an iconic poster, and it got one thanks to street artist Shepard Fairey. The powerful image of Barack Obama seeming to peer into the future was everywhere. Nothing remotely as distinctive has emerged yet from the 2012 campaign.

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