In the days before photography was widespread, the lithograph was America’s preferred method for making mass-produced images. And none did more to shape the patriotic aesthetic of the young nation’s political life than those by the duo of Nathaniel Currier and James M. Ives.
Among the iconic images created by the two during the mid-19th century were reams of campaign banners, the first of which was crafted in 1844 for Democrat James K. Polk. The lithograph was meant to go on pamphlets that could be handed out to voters. Soon, the campaigns of rivals Martin Van Buren and Zachary Taylor both hired Currier to create political banners for them. These pictures might not exactly look like the campaign literature of today, but it’s easy to see how they functioned as the forebears of 2016’s TV ads and mailings.
A new edition of Currier & Ives’ America: From a Young Nation to a Great Power by Walton Rawls—in which these images can be found—will be available this March.