The Bumper Sticker Phenomenon: How It Began (and Why It Stuck Around)

Discover the stories behind the trend — from the birth of the bumper sticker to the origins of “Baby on Board.”

Like a pin on your lapel or a logo on your T-shirt, bumper stickers are a way of expressing your identity. Read on to discover how the bumper-sticker trend began — and how it’s evolved over the years.

The birth of the bumper sticker

When the Ford Model A was introduced in 1927, it featured prominent front and rear bumpers. Car owners immediately thought, “I must use this surface to express my opinions and preferences!” And lo, the bumper as pontification space was born.

At first, bumper signs were made of metal or cardboard and attached to the bumper with wire. The bumper sticker as we know it was invented in 1946 by a Kansas City screen printer named Forest P. Gill. After World War II, he found himself with a surplus of adhesive-backed paper and fluorescent paint so he decided to combine them. No one knows for sure what the first bumper sticker said (our guess: “I’d Rather Be Squeegeeing”). But the stickers soon became popular as mementos of fairs and other events.

The stories behind the stickers

Many of the early, metal bumper plates supported presidential candidates, so it’s surprising that the first political bumper stickers weren’t printed until the Eisenhower-Stevenson race in 1952. Stickers supporting (or vehemently not supporting) a political candidate or party are still big sellers, along with an infinite variety of other messages, ranging from the classic “My Other Car Is a Porsche/Boat/Horse” to the ever-popular “My Child Is an Honor Student at Local Elementary School.”

Here are the stories behind a few of the most iconic bumper stickers:

HONK if you …

We’ve all seen bumper stickers encouraging us to honk if we share the driver’s enthusiasm for or belief in something, as in “HONK If You Love Geese!” or “HONK If You Love Pointless Displays of Noise.” This trend dates back to the days of Nixon’s impeachment when “HONK If You Think He’s Guilty” was often seen on bumpers in DC.

Baby on Board

Few stickers have prompted such scoffing (or parody) as this ubiquitous yellow diamond. The usual snarky response upon seeing it: “Well, gee, I was going to hit you, but now I won’t!” (Not that I ever said that, of course.) Despite the sarcasm it provoked, the sign’s creator, Michael Lerner, was quite sincere in his intentions. After a hair-raising experience driving his 18-month-old nephew around Boston, the childless Lerner wanted to remind drivers that they share the road with children and need to be extra careful. His design was based on similar car-safety signs used in Europe.

The election is over. Now what?

Maybe your candidate won. Maybe not. In either case, your 2012 sticker is so, well, 2012. Here are 2 methods for getting no-longer-wanted stickers off your bumper:

Heat method

Hold a hair dryer about 6 inches from one corner of the sticker to soften the adhesive. Use your fingernail or a razor blade to gently lift the corner off the surface. Then, apply heat to the whole sticker and slowly peel the corner back until the sticker comes free.

Lubricant method

Gently peel up a corner of the sticker using your fingernail or a razor. Apply a spray lubricant such as WD-40 to the corner and begin to pull up slowly. Continue applying lubricant as you gradually peel off the sticker.

Share your thoughts

How do you feel about bumper stickers? Do you have any on your car? What’s your favorite bumper sticker? Let us know!

2 Responses to “The Bumper Sticker Phenomenon: How It Began (and Why It Stuck Around)”

  1. OUTsurance
    July 17, 2013 #

    I think you need to be a 70/80's child to admire the art of bumper stickers :)

  2. gary
    July 17, 2013 #

    I've noticed that older or more beat-up or rusted cars tend to have stickers, while newer or shiny or cleaner cars tend not to.

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