The election posters and banners all over the city

The internet, TV, and social media sites are today’s dumping grounds for campaign ads. But in a pre-digital New York City without mass media, political staffers got their candidate’s name out by taking to the streets.

A billboard in 1950: Dewey won, Corsi lost.

That meant putting up billboards on buildings, stringing banners across streets, and plastering posters on vacant storefronts.

McKinley and Hobart won, but Hobert died in office.

The banners seem to have been particularly common sights at the turn of the last century. This one above, for William McKinley’s 1896 presidential run, spanned Maiden Lane.

Competing campaign posters on Avenue C

On Avenue C between Third and Fourth Streets in 1936, campaign posters for Franklin D. Roosevelt are advertised just doors away from posters making the case for a voting for the Communist Party candidate.

FDR and Lehman, both winners in 1936

Here’s another FDR poster from the 1936 election, with Herbert Lehman running for governor, on the side of a store selling coal and ice.

This banner lays out TR’s campaign promises.

Does anyone remember who Fairbanks was? Charles W. Fairbanks was a senator for Indiana, chosen to run with Teddy Roosevelt in 1904 and promise “sound money and continued national prosperity” to Americans, per this banner on Maiden Lane.

Candidates in 1952, mostly lost to history

These posters, from 1950, covers local politicians. One name I recognize: Louis DeSalvio, an assemblyman for 38 years representing the Lower East Side and one of the namesakes of DeSalvio Playground on Spring and Mulberry Street.

[Top image: MCNY x2010.11.8821; second image: New-York Historical Society; third image:; fourth image: MCNY 2003.25.51; fifth image: New-York Historical Society; sixth image: MCNY x2010.11.8818]

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20 Responses to “The election posters and banners all over the city”

  1. Bob Says:

    McKinley also died in office (but in his 2nd term, shot by an assassin.). Hobart’s replacement as 2nd term VP, Theodore Roosevelt, succeeded McKinley.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Yes, and the rest is history as they say….

    • ironrailsironweights Says:

      There’s a story about McKinley’s assassination that sounds utterly contrived but by all accounts actualy happened. He was carried to the first aid station on the grounds of the Buffalo exhibition where he’d been shot, and several doctors decided that the gravely injured president needed immediate surgery. They figured that his best chance would be for Roswell Park, Buffalo’s most highly esteemed surgeon, to perform the surgery. Upon hearing that Park was about to start an operation 30 miles away at the hospital in Niagara Falls, the doctors sent a courier to Niagara Falls on a special train to bring Park back with him.
      The courier found Park at the Niagara Falls hospital and told him there was a very serious case back in Buffalo that needed his immediate attention. Highly annoyed, Park told the hapless courier that he wasn’t about to leave his current patient even if the urgent case in Buffalo involved the President of the United States. Upon being informed that well, yes, that in fact was the case, Park stuck to his word and finished the current operation before heading to Buffalo. He arrived just as the other doctors, having been unable to wait any further, were finishing the operation on McKinley.
      Whether McKinley would have survived had Park performed the surgery is unknown. None of the Buffalo doctors had anything approaching Park’s experience or skill, in fact the lead doctor was a gynecologist who had never treated a gunshot wound, however the autopsy showed that McKinley had pancreatic necrosis, a condition largely untreatable at the time and which can be fatal even today.


  2. TomF Says:

    Regarding the posters for FDR and Herbert Lehman, 1936 was the last time there were concurrent presidential and gubernatorial elections. Nowadays they occur in alternating even-numbered years. NY govs served a two-year term from 1894 until 1938, when the term was extended to the current four year length. From 1874 to 1894 the term was three years, and prior to that, one year.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Interesting that governors served 2-year terms back then. Mayors also used to serve 2-year terms, but that was changed in 1905 I believe.

  3. Shayne Davidson Says:

    Interesting “see-thru” banner for McKinley & Hobart!

  4. countrypaul Says:

    There were many, they were cluttered, but most were civil. How different from today.

  5. Michael Leddy Says:

    I noticed Israel Amter’s name on the Communist ticket. He turns up in Allen Ginsberg’s poem “America”: “I once saw Israel Amter plain.” (Echoing Robert Browning: “Ah, did you once see Shelley plain.”

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thanks Michael, I remember the poem but not the name!

      • velovixen Says:

        It’s funny that I first saw Israel Amter’s name in Ginsberg’s poem.

        Seeing an FDR banner next to the Communist candidate’s banner is wild. The 30s we’re probably the only time someone could run so openly as a Communist. Fun fact: Bensonhurst was represented by a Communist—Pete Cacchione—in the City Council during the 1940s.
        The McKinley-Hobart banner is beautiful.

  6. petey Says:

    Great post!

    Fun facts: Earl Browder, the Communist presidential candidate, had three sons, all mathematicians, who taught at Princeton, Brown, and Rutgers. His grandson is the BIll Browder of the Magntisky Act and is quite a capitalist.

  7. Greg Says:

    The Maiden Lane display got me thinking about something I’ve wanted to pose to the amateur local history community for a long time:

    Jackson’s Encyclopedia of New York City indicates the Cedar Tavern opened on Cedar Street in 1866. I know it was on West 8th by 1945, but I’ve never seen anything further about the purported 1866-1945 years, either in primary or secondary sources. Has anyone else? Any help appreciated!

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I’ve always kicked this idea around too and keep meaning to look into it—the original Cedar Tavern. I’d love to know more.

      • Greg Says:

        Correction – I meant it was on West 8th starting in 1933. The first hit I get in the Times is for their lease, in the 27 July 1933 issue. And that is for “Cedar Tavern Inc.” No variant of Cedar Street Tavern, Cedar Bar, Cedar Street Bar, or anything before that, which is pretty weird. I think the Cedar Street origin might be apocryphal. If I had a subscription I’d check more widely.

      • Greg Says:

        Well, here is a new lead. I managed to search part of the Herald Tribune, and the Jan 28, 1934 issue has a record of State Liquor Licenses that includes one for Ye Olde Cedar Tavern, Leard & Bernstein, 126 Cedar St. That seems to be an address that may no longer exists, I can’t quite tell. And I can’t anything initially about this Leard and Bernstein team.

        Of course, this only depends the mystery, since the West 8th Street Cedar Tavern is up and running at this point. Perhaps someone took over the old space with a similar name? Just a coincidence?

      • Greg Says:

        This could be promising but I can’t access it. Possibly relevant “Ye Olde Cedar Tavern” hit

  8. Eric V Says:

    Political posters of the past were similar to the fight posters for boxing, I terms of font, typeface. Throw in ads for cigars and blended whiskey and you have the big advertising for most of NYC up until the 1960s.

  9. ironrailsironweights Says:

    Abraham N. Geller, in the 1952 poster, effectively broke the 1966 transit strike by jailing several union leaders for contempt, most notably the powerful boss Michael Quill.


  10. Bill Wolfe Says:

    I’m puzzled by the sign for William McKinley. I believe it says “1892.” However, McKinley didn’t run for President until 1896. He did run for Governor of Ohio in 1892 (and won), but I wouldn’t think there was a banner for this race anywhere in New York. He also came in third at the Republican Presidential convention that year, behind eventual nominee Benjamin Harrison, who was seeking a second term. (He lost to Grover Cleveland, thus making Cleveland the only person to serve two non-consecutive terms as President.) The 1892 convention was held in Minneapolis, so again I wouldn’t think there were any banners in New York City supporting McKinley’s nomination. I wonder what the explanation is for that banner saying “1892”?

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