Advertising Lincoln

After having traveled to New Orleans for the Southern Historical Association Meeting, I returned home to a mountain of emails.  It was getting close to lunch time, and I was a bit hungry.  I decided to open an email from subway (I had won a free cookie from them recently and thought maybe lightning would strike twice).  Instead, what I found was the image above:  Abraham Lincoln advertising foot long subs.  I was struck by the image for two reasons:  First, the designers have Lincoln wearing an Olivia Newton John “Let’s Get Physical” headband from the 1980s.  Second, I am not sure Lincoln would have been flattered or happy to know that his image had been used so prominently in advertising. 

I became curious:  how much is Lincoln used to sell items?  Here is what I uncovered: 

 Here Lincoln seems to have been fused with Democratic nominee Barack Obama, used on a Dem. website to raise money for his election campaign. 















  Here is Lincoln, accompanied by Phil the groundhog advocating sleep medication.  If you have had the pleasure of turning on your television in February, you no doubt have run across Lincoln selling mattresses, tool sets, cars or anything else that the nation attempts to sell on President’s Day.

Lincoln would be shocked that his image has been used to sell merchandise.  Lincoln routinely described himself as “dark complected” and told self-depricating stories to describe his appearance.  Apparently, Lincoln was stopped by a man who shoved a revolver into his face.  Lincoln remained calm, rather than adding stress to the situation.  “What seems to be the matter?,” asked Lincoln.  “Well,” said the man with the gun, “A long time ago I swore that if I ever came across an uglier man than myself I’d shoot him on the spot.” Lincoln replied, “Well, go ahead and shoot me then, because if I am an uglier man than you I don’t want to live.”

In 1858, Lincoln said, “Nobody has ever expected me to be President.  In my poor, lean, lank face, nobody has ever seen that any cabbages were sprouting out.”  In another instance, when Lincoln had been accused of being two-faced, he joked, “If I had another face, do you think I’d be wearing this one?”  From his rough and tumbled hair in the photograph taken in 1857 to his arrival in Albany New York after the election, when he was described as “Tired, sunburned, adorned with huge whiskers,” Lincoln seems to not be overly concerned with his appearance, especially if he constantly joked about it.

Or does he?  Historian Harold Holzer, among others, have extensively studied Lincoln’s image and its manipulation.  When Lincoln strolled into Matthew Brady’s studio in New York City, in the midst of delivering his famous Cooper Union speech in 1860, he took a photograph that appeared in newspapers across the country over the coming months.  Lincoln had his left hand resting on a stack of books and stood with a classical column behind him.  His coat looked presidential.  His face had a little touch-up work done on it to make him appear more presidential.  In fact, there was nothing that wasn’t presidential about that image. 

So, which is the real Lincoln?  The one who made fun of his appearance or the one who worked to make sure his public image was as presidential as possible?  What would Lincoln say about the subway ad?  Would he say that he would never eat at subway because he would scare all the sandwich artists away?  Or would he use the image to become CEO?  We will never know.  What we do know is that the Lincoln image continues to resonate today, whether on our money, in our advertising or in the hearts and minds of the American people who look to the past for examples of strong, presidential leadership!


One Response to “Advertising Lincoln”

  1. Michael Says:

    How do you think he would have felt about Lincoln logs?

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