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History of Bumper Stickers

Posted by Clash Graphics on

Don’t miss out on the marketing brilliance and fun of bumper stickers. By knowing how bumper stickers came to be, you can appreciate their deeply rooted potential in marketing and advertising.

Bumper stickers used to convey messages and advisories gathered information about the history of bumper stickers and how they’ve managed to “stick” around for so long.

Bumper Stickers - The Bumper

Ages before the invention of the automobile, marketing and advertising campaigns were already using the available modes of transportation to spread their word. Slogans and company names were being displayed on horse-drawn carriages, stagecoaches, and buggies.

When automobiles became widely available to the masses in the early 1900s, the practice of using vehicles to display information continued. However, these first automobiles didn’t have bumpers.

Bumper sticker history includes advertising and marketing displayed on vehicles before the bumper

It wouldn’t be until 1927, with the release of Ford’s Model A, that bumpers were adopted as a safety feature. As quickly as bumpers became commonplace, so did their ornamentation with makeshift signs attached using wire.

Bumper Stickers - The Sticker

Forest Gill, the owner of a Kansas City, KS print shop, is credited with using two wartime technologies (day-glow paint and adhesive-backed paper) in the mid-1940s to create the beginnings of what we now recognize as bumper stickers.

Initially, it was the tourism industry that seized the marketing value of this invention. The first known large volume request from Gill’s print shop was 25,000 bumper stickers for Marine Gardens in Clearwater, Florida. Roadside attractions were no longer limited to their often larger-than-life signage, their name and message were now traveling on highways throughout the country.

It didn’t take long for the giant wheels of political marketing to embrace the bumper sticker. During the 1952 presidential race between Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson, bumper stickers gained significant national popularity. Bumper stickers have since been produced and used in most political campaigns, and every presidential election.

Bumper stickers were literally everywhere by the 1960 presidential election. They had become a favorite way for voters to declare their intentions at the ballot box.

Bumper stickers became wildly popular after being used in political campaigns

Then, in 1968, the company that produced the beginnings of the bumper sticker printed 20 million of them for the presidential campaign of then Alabama governor George Wallace. By this time, bumper stickers had cemented their place in the marketing and advertising industries.

Bumper Sticker Evolution

Over the decades, bumper stickers have been made from various materials. The first bumper stickers were made using paper, but practicality and durability led vinyl bumper stickers to become the standard. Screen printing bumper stickers was commonplace until the 1990s when they were produced with a variety of different printing technologies.

Bumper stickers eventually evolved to include decals and placards. The most successful of them is the “Baby on Board” sign. The sign was developed and marketed by Michael Lerner, a Massachusetts businessman with no children. In less than a year of its release, Mr. Lerner sold 3 million of his signs.

Other significant, and wildly popular, bumper sticker creations include:

  • The ichthys, “Coexist”
  • My Child is an Honor Roll Student
  • Soccer Mom
  • Please Be Patient Student Driver
  • Stick Figure Family (decals)
  • Peace and Love
  • M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Diving)

Stick figure decals evolved from the popularity of bumper stickers

In 1991, a Georgia resident was charged with violating a state law prohibiting automobile owners from attaching “any sticker, decal, emblem, or other device containing profane or lewd words.” In Cunningham v. the State, the owner successfully argued this law was unconstitutional. The court agreed with him, ruling that the law violated the 1st and 14th Amendments. As such, the bumper sticker was now protected by freedom of speech.

European Bumper Stickers

The United States saw a massive explosion of messaging and marketing through bumper stickers. But, 1969 saw European countries requiring white, oval bumper stickers with the iconic black outline, and a 1, 2, or 3 letter country code be displayed on all vehicles.

European country identifying decals are a part of bumper sticker history

The 1980s saw the European oval bumper sticker gain popularity in the US as a status symbol. And by the 2000s, as Europe phased out the sticker, it had gained increasing popularity with restaurants, popular vacation destinations, tourist attractions, and other marketing uses in the US.

Bumper Stickers

In this article, you discovered how bumper stickers were created, how they evolved over the decades, and how they’ve been used to convey information.

By knowing how bumper stickers evolved and, in many cases, earned their place in our memories, you can better appreciate their potential impact in a marketing strategy.

Without including bumper stickers in your marketing strategy, you are excluding a powerful means of communication, potentially leaving significant revenue opportunities on the table.


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