You can get a pretty good insight into the driver of the car ahead of you based on what you see on the back bumper. What political statements is the driver making? Where have the driver and the car traveled? What kind of humor does the driver have?
Even before the bumper sticker, vehicles were used for advertising purposes. A sign hung from the back of a carriage by wire, an interior decal on the window, or printed wheel covers were ways that vehicles were utilized before a true bumper was added to automobiles and before there was something that could hold up well enough against the elements.
Credit for inventing the bumper sticker as we know it today is given to Forest P. Gill, a silkscreen printer from Kansas City. Utilizing ink and adhesive technology developed in the 1940s, Gill began producing the first bumper stickers as a souvenir item. At a time when road tripping and travel by car was increasingly popular, the bumper sticker fit in well. In addition to tourism, political, social, religious, humorous and other personal ideas and slogans were used on the bumper sticker in the following decades through today.
Materials used for bumper stickers have also changed and evolved. Different inks, adhesives, and liners have been used within certain timeframes and decades. This makes it easier to accurately date bumper stickers that may not otherwise be easy to date using hints from the slogan or phrase.
Here at FCMoD, we have recently accessioned a green and white bumper sticker that reads “Throw it away? ….. there is no away.” The phrase is serves as a reminder to be resourceful and not wasteful.
In an effort to accurately date this object, I first looked to when the phrase became popular to use. The idea and phrase “there is no away” was coined in the early 1970s by ecologist Barry Commoner as one of his 4 Laws of Ecology.
I then turned to the composition and materials of the bumper sticker, and referenced the article “Soapbox for the Automobile” by Whitney Baker of the University of Kansas Libraries. In it, Baker outlines the evolution of inks, adhesives, bodystocks, and liners of bumper stickers based on her study of over two thousand bumper stickers.
Several identifying features of our bumper sticker that could help us date it would be the white liner, the matte and glossy ink appearance, and the vinyl bodystock. With all these features in mind, checked against the guidelines provided in Baker’s article, our bumper sticker was likely created in the 1970s or 1980s.
What do your bumper stickers say about you?