WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS NEWS) – How will campaign 2020 be remembered decades from now? It’s too early to tell, but the Smithsonian Institution is preserving campaign trail artifacts to help tell the story.
Curators have hit the road in some of the early caucus and primary states in search of memorabilia for the National Museum of American History.
“We try to hit all the headquarters; we try to get campaign rallies,” said curator Claire Jerry.
Just like primary season, their quest begins in Iowa. Jerry traveled to candidate field offices and campaign events, collecting signs, buttons, door hangers and candidates’ talking points to document how campaign 2020 will be remembered.
“That’s the question curators are always asking themselves, trying to think 50 or 100 years down the road.”
While this presidential campaign marks Jerry’s first one traveling for the Smithsonian, the National Museum of American History’s collection in Washington D.C. dates back to George Washington and an inaugural button.
“People at his inauguration could buy souvenir buttons and wear them to show their support for the new president,” said Lisa Kathleen Graddy, Curator of the Political and Military History at the museum.
Graddy says the 9th president, William Henry Harrison, popularized campaign swag back in 1840 with a log cabin cup.
“This is really the genesis of a lot of the kind of campaign material we see now,” said Graddy. “The idea is if you can get someone to bring something into their home and invest in it, they’re committed to you,” she continued.
Over the years, the merchandise has spanned ribbons, buttons soap, makeup compacts, even cologne.
The political history collection includes around 130,000 items, much of it carefully stored in cabinets and drawers.
“We think of the campaigns as being very disposable. Once a campaign drops, do people even remember them? Well we do!”
While only the eventual nominees make it to the display case on the exhibit floor, the remnants of the many other candidates and campaigns are carefully preserved for research and history books.
If you can’t visit the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in person, they have a collection of their political novelty items online, including some of the items not currently on display.