ORLANDO — Political buttons, easily one of the most popular and enduring items in the history of campaigning, date back to around 1892, courtesy of a New Jersey company called Whitehead and Hoag. Even today, the words “Whitehead and Hoag” are a staple on sites like eBay that draw in collectors.
Political buttons may be one of the most familiar and instantly recognizable items during the campaign season, but they’re hardly the only ones. Throughout the history of political campaigns in the United States, particularly the presidential elections, parties and their supporters have come up with a wide variety of creative and appealing merchandise to get people to vote for their candidate.
A huge number of political campaign memorabilia is now on display at the Orange County Regional History Center, which recently opened a new exhibit titled “Pin For The Win: 180 Years of Political Memorabilia.” It gives area residents and visitors an opportunity to see how these items have evolved over the years.
“It’s a neat exhibit, especially during campaign time,” said Pamela Schwartz, the history center’s curator of exhibitions. “We estimated it’s 180 years of memorabilia.”
There are literally hundreds of items on display, but in fact they’re just a small percentage of the much larger collection owned by Doug Guetzloe, an Orlando resident and political consultant who has spent nearly 40 years adding to his vast collection of political memorabilia. It was Guetzloe who loaned the items from his collection to the History Center for this exhibit, which will be on display through Dec. 4.
“It all started with one man’s awesome collection,” Schwartz said. “He has just collected and collected over the years. We only have a very small fraction of Doug’s collection on display. It’s pretty phenomenal stuff.”
Guetzloe said his interest in campaign buttons started during the 1968 presidential election, the first campaign he followed, and the one that set him on the path toward a career in politics — and a passion for collecting campaign merchandise.
“I was 13, and I became interested in politics,” the Florida native said. “I decided to go ahead and collect political buttons.”
Back then, in the days before eBay made them readily available, Guetzloe said he sought out buttons in a very different way.
“The way I collected buttons was the old-fashioned way — I wrote to all the delegates to the campaigns,” he said.
He asked the delegates if they could send him any spare buttons — and many did.
“The delegates just sent me stuff, so I started collecting pins indigenous to Florida,” he said, adding that over the years, he found other ways to add to his collection.
“You can still find Florida pins at flea markets and antique stores off the beaten path,” he said. “And I do a lot of trading with other collectors.”
The exhibit starts in the History Center’s second floor hallway, with a glass case filled with items.
“All of the items seen here are from the 1970s,” Schwartz said, including buttons promoting not only presidential candidates who ran in the 1970s, but also Florida politicians from that era, like former governors Reubin Askew, a Democrat, and Claude Roy Kirk, a Republican. The items are from both parties.
The exhibit itself is divided into three sections. The first is devoted to “Beloved Political Figures,” with a strong emphasis on President Theodore Roosevelt Jr. One item, made of metal, shows the Rough Rider pitching a penny into a tree. When it goes in, a bear pops out of the top.
There are also mini-pie servers and tiny axes devoted to the candidates.
“Campaign memorabilia has come in every shape and form,” Schwartz said. “There’s a lot of variety here.”
The second section is called “Anything Goes,” and “It’s a look at the random stuff,” Schwartz said. Those items include a Harry Truman comic book, as well as items from numerous past Florida campaigns.
“We always try to include local history,” Schwartz said. “That was a big draw for us.”
The third section is devoted entirely to those political buttons.
“We’re doing a fun little guessing game, asking people how many buttons are in the case,” Schwartz said. “At the end of the exhibit, we will count them all.”
Many of the buttons were used in Sunshine State campaigns, including ones that read “Carter in ’80 — Florida Does It Better” and “Florida is Bush Country – 1988.”
Guetzloe said he was only too pleased when he proposed the idea of a political memorabilia exhibit to the History Center, and they loved the idea.
The exhibit also includes and eight-minute video, narrated by Guetzloe, that takes a look at the rest of his private collection.
The History Center is at 65 E. Central Boulevard in downtown Orlando.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..