Before air conditioning, portable, collapsible, and durable handheld fans were a necessity in the hot months. For congressional candidates, summertime made fans the perfect giveaway at parades, rallies, and “any kind of places where people congregate regularly in hot weather,” as one proponent noted. The House Collection contains breezemakers from a century’s worth of sweltering campaigns.
The oldest fan in the House is Ebenezer Hill’s 1918 version, with a postcard-perfect farmhouse on one side and the Connecticut primary date on the other. Hill was in step with the national craze for advertising on fans. Between 1920 and 1930, three major firms produced 25 million fans each year for companies to use as giveaways. Candidates like Hill could buy rigid screen fans like this in any amount, with a stock image on one side, and print a campaign message on the reverse. Sometimes the same image used by congressional candidates would show up on giveaways used as advertisements by dentists or for pianos.
Joe Evins, first elected to Congress in 1946, was a fan of fans, using more than one style for his campaigns. A 1950 version closely resembled Hill’s. A colorful landscape—this time, a view of the Washington Monument—appears on one side and information about the candidate on the other. For the other design, Evins touted his sterling character as a “proven friend of the people” on one side of the fan and used the expandable panels to show the entire U.S. Capitol on the other.
Eventually, graphics on congressional campaign fans became less ornamental, abandoning pretty pictures for straightforward politicking. National party conventions drove the change. Hordes of politically minded delegates relished wielding their candidate’s photo and slogans. And wield them they did! Even with all the windows open, convention halls were swampy places, where only handheld fans rustled up wisps of breeze. In 1928, the Massachusetts Democratic Party was so nervous about scorching temperatures during the upcoming convention in Houston that they “voted to furnish 30,000 attractive souvenir fans for use of the delegates.” One example of the simpler design is Rogers C.B. Morton’s fan from 1968. Red, white, and blue are the only colors, accompanied by the simple legend, “Vote for Rogers C.B. Morton.”
Sources: Edmund B. Sullivan, Collecting Political Americana (Hanover, MA: Christopher Publishing House, 1991); Charles Reagan Wilson, Judgment and Grace in Dixie: Southern Faiths from Faulkner to Elvis (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1995); Boston Daily Globe, June 6, 1928.Follow @USHouseHistory