Campaign souvenirs at the Milwaukee Co. Historical Society

MILWAUKEE -- Picture the collection you would have if you kept your parents' or grandparents' campaign souvenirs that were sitting in the attic or garage.

Even then, you wouldn't have a fraction of the materials stored in the basement of the Milwaukee County Historical Society.

Across shelves and tucked in boxes, you'll find scores of ribbons and handkerchiefs from elections going back more than a century ago.

One ribbon features a young Abraham Lincoln before the beard in 1860.

Among others, you'll see Grant, McKinley, and Teddy Roosevelt.

The oldest piece, a small ribbon, dates back to 1840 when William Henry Harrison was running for President.

"Wisconsin was a territory in 1840 and you couldn't vote in territories, but somebody either was a William Henry Harrison supporter in 1840 and moved to Milwaukee afterwards," said Jeff Kollath, Director of Museum Experience.

Also in the collection are dozens of buttons big and small, plastered with faces of candidates.

Adlai Stevenson and Dwight Eisenhower had their mugs on buttons the size of dishes. 

Much like a yard sign, the large buttons were used as decorative mantels in a home's front window, serving as a billboard to the neighborhood.

"It was a way to hand out swag to supporters for thanking them for their support and hoping they'd pass the word to other folks, " said Kollath.

Long before attack ads, smaller buttons in the collection expressed aggressive themes of the day.

Like the race of 1940 when Franklin Roosevelt wanted another four years in office.

One button reads, "Roosevelt no more just forget it," or another adds, "We don't want Eleanor either."

"A lot of Americans didn't want him running for a third term, they didn't want a Roosevelt dynasty," said Kollath. 

Critics weren't shy either, even attacking his polio condition.

Another button reads, "Give Roosevelt his desired rest."

Also among the souvenirs, you'll see masks for Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater staring at you, or a box full of Barry Goldwater bubble gum cigars.

One of the more unique items has to be a small glass pocket flask, yes flask, showing President McKinley's face next to running mate Teddy Roosevelt.

"We don't see a lot of this stuff like this now. So much of the energy is put into television ads, and internet ads, and obviously direct mail print stuff," said Kollath.

Big, bold, and flashy, the campaign swag showed a certain flair and personality of the time.

"(It was) also as a way for campaigns to make money too because you don't have this huge glut of money coming in from the outside like you do now," Kollath.