HHH: Vote for Hubert Horatio Humphrey!

HHH-Final

Just three letters said it all. In 1968, “HHH” could mean only one thing in the United States: Hubert Horatio Humphrey. He was the vice-president of the country, and more importantly, the Democratic Party candidate for the upcoming presidential elections.

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Like countless candidates before him, Humphrey’s face and name became integral visual elements of an election campaign. From picture posters to matchbooks, ceramic plates to calendars, and even cushions—Humphrey appeared everywhere and anywhere that year.

One of the cheapest and most widely available platform for advertising then was the button. Candidates gave out this small fashion accessory for free, and supporters who wore them became personal billboards for their campaign. The button is usually circular, although it has also been produced as tabs, lapels and other forms. Regardless of shape, the size of a button is always limited—typically ranging between 1 to 4 inches—so the message it carries has to be effective and economical.

LBJ

Recognizing what a mouthful his name was, Humphrey condensed it to “HHH” for the ‘68 campaign. He must have learnt from President Lyndon Baines Johnson, better known as LBJ, whom he had successfully run for office with just four years before. While the portrait of a candidate or his name was commonly used on a button since this marketing device was first introduced in the 1896 elections, the times were a’changing. As television took over the role of giving a face to the candidate from the 1950s, buttons could look more abstract. “HHH” not only fitted easily into a button, it combined to create a distinct logotype that was paired with different designs in various styles

This particular set of buttons have nothing else on them except “HHH” set in what looks like an extra condensed version of typeface News Gothic Bold. While the buttons of his competitor, Richard Nixon, came in the traditional patriotic colors of red, blue, and white, this set of Humphrey pins were unusual with their colorful mustard yellow and aqua green background. Perhaps it was a reminder of how Humphrey stood  up for the colored and was the main author of the Civil Rights Act. Or had the psychedelic ‘60s crept into the politics of this liberal candidate?

Additionally, these buttons do not match the official ones given out by the Democrats’ national committees. They could have been issued by local offices or commercial companies eager to cash in on the growing popularity of collecting campaign buttons. Just as how money and politics are so intertwined in the US, campaign buttons were commoditized. By 1973, a Hobby Protection Act was even enacted to protect collectors from imitation items that had flooded the market.

Several clues on these buttons suggest they are legitimate. Instead of having a separate safety pin on their backs, these buttons have bent pins integrated in them just like early designs. The edges of the buttons also have printed labels that read “Allied Printing”, presumably a historical union printer.

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One thing is for sure: Humphrey’s campaign was unlike the orderly arrangement of the buttons’ design and their celebratory colors. In 1968, he not only struggled to overcome a Democratic party divided by the Vietnam War, the nominee kept coming up against angry anti-war protestors, which even led to police violence. Humphrey narrowly lost to Nixon, rendering “HHH” just another slogan of a failed presidential campaign.

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Written for Steven Heller’s Researching Design class at D-Crit.

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