The presidential election was just slightly more than two months away. Candidate No. 1 was considered a man of the people, your average guy. He was a war hero too. Candidate No. 2 was seen as an egghead, an intellectual who was having trouble relating to the average man. He was quite rich, too.
The year was 1952, and Candidate No. 1 was Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who led the U.S. Armed Forces in World War II. Candidate No. 2 was Adlai Stevenson, whose grandfather was the 23rd U.S. Vice President in President Grover Cleveland’s administration.
It’s hard to say whether anyone could have beaten Ike in that election. Seven years removed from WWII, his popularity was still growing. But one event, one photo from that election would become perhaps the most iconic campaign photo in history.
On Labor Day, in Michigan, Flint Journal photographer William Gallagher was shooting a campaign stop by Stevenson with Michigan Gov. G. Mennen Williams. Stevenson was sitting on a platform and Gallagher was below him with his camera. At some point, Stevenson crossed his legs and Gallagher noticed a large hole in the sole of Stevenson’s shoe. He snapped the photo. The next day, the photo went the 1952 equivalent of viral, appearing in newspapers across the nation.
The Stevenson campaign loved it. The photo brought him down to the average Joe’s level.
See, even wealthy Stevenson would be careful with taxpayers’ money, they touted. It wasn’t long before little sterling silver pins in the shape of a shoe’s sole, with a small hole in the bottom, were appearing on Democrats’ lapels across the country. Even Stevenson wore one.
The Eisenhower campaign saw an opening here too. They soon produced pinback buttons that showed a shoe’s sole with a hole in it, with the words “Don’t Let this Happen to You! Vote for Ike.”
Ike would go on to beat Stevenson in November 1952. Stevenson got a second chance at Eisenhower in 1956, but lost that election too. But the real winner was William Gallagher. His photo won a Pulitzer prize that year.