Friday, February 1, 2013

President McKinley: A Life and Death in Glass

As the “Mother of Presidents,”  the State of Ohio has produced eight, of whom the one enjoying the highest ranking among U.S. Chief Executives has been William McKinley.  Another distinction of McKinley terms in office was the proliferation of campaign souvenirs, particularly those in glass.  As a result it is possible to trace the life -- and tragic death -- of our 25th President through a series of such artifacts.

Born in Niles, Ohio, in 1843, McKinley was the last American President to have served in the Civil War,  beginning as a private in the Union Army.   Here in a glass slide is a photograph of William as a young soldier.  He looks somewhat apprehensive in this portrait but went on to serve with distinction and rose to the rank of brevet major before the end of the conflict.  After the war, he settled in Canton, Ohio, where he practiced law.  In 1876 he was elected to Congress where he served seven terms.  He gave his name to protective tariff legislation.  It proved unpopular with his constituents and he was defeated for reelection in 1890.

Undaunted, he ran for governor of Ohio in 1891, won and was reelected in 1893, proving to be an able political leader.  A paperweight  showing a younger McKinley probably dates from his tenure as governor.  With the help of his close advisor,  Cleveland’s Mark Hanna,  he won the Republic nomination for President in 1896,  amid a deep economic  recession. McKinley was pitted against William Jennings Bryan whose Democratic Party was blamed for the country’s woes and he won handily.

McKinley’s first campaign was notable for the variety of souvenir items it produced.  Among glassware was a saucer that had his profile molded at the center, surrounded by stars.  His slogan,  “Protection and Plenty,”  was a reference to his identification with  high “protective” tariffs,  which had regained popularity.  As the campaign proceeded, it became clear that the Ohioan would win.  A drinking glass with his face etched in it expressed that confidence.
Paperweights were a favorite campaign item.  McKinley’s supporters issued one showing the candidate with his proposed vice president,  Garrett Hobart.  Hobart was the presiding officer of the New Jersey State Senate and highly popular with Republican leaders. 

McKinley proved to be a very successful President during his first term.  The country experienced rapid economic growth.  He pushed through Congress increased tariffs to protect American manufacturers and jobs.  Overseas, he led the Nation in the successful Spanish-American War that saw the vast expansion of U.S. possessions overseas to Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines.   Increasingly popular,  McKinley was celebrated in numerous glass paperweights, three of them shown here.

McKinley moved into his second campaign in 1900 riding a tide of popularity but without his vice president.  Hobart had died in office in 1899, so a new running mate was needed.  Theodore Roosevelt, a hero of the Spanish-American War and governor of New York, was chosen.  Their images appeared together on a label-under-glass canteen, a reminder of the military backgrounds of both candidates.  The pair also were captured on glass paperweights.

McKinley was only a few months into his second term when he was shot and fatally wounded on September 6, 1901, inside the Temple of Music on the grounds of the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.  He was shaking hands with members of the public when he was shot by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist. The President died on September 14 from gangrene caused by the bullet wounds.  A glass paperweight from 1901 memorialized the occasion, showing McKinley juxtaposed against  a photo of the Temple of Music.
A nation in mourning produced a number of items commemorating the martyrdom of the popular President.   Among the most popular was a pressed glass oval bread plate produced in 1902.  Measuring 10.5 inches the plate featured a leaf pattern along the rim and stippled features including the cameo image of McKinley.  Framing his standing figure, the plate was embossed with the words "It is God’s Way" and "His Will Be Done.”  The phrases repeat those McKinley said to have uttered on his deathbed.

As political campaigns and memorial items have changed through the years, the number of glass artifacts has been greatly reduced as plastic and other materials have emerged.  McKinley’s life and death seems to be the one most captured in the vitreous mode.  There  are dozens more glass items, especially paperweights, bearing his image.   This suggests a fertile field for the historical glass collector.

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