History of the Bandana
The word Bandana is thought to come from the Hindi 'bāṅdhnū' and in Urdu 'bāndhnū' meaning a tied, bound cloth.
Bandanas as a tool for political struggle
In 1775, when travelling north to join her husband for Christmas – he was commanding the Continental Army at the time, Martha visited Joseph & Esther Reed in Philadelphia. Whilst there she met with John Hewson, a printmaker recommended by Benjamin Franklin for his skills & defiance in regard to a ban on textile printing by the British. Hewson copied the drawings of militia flags & cannons that Martha shared with him, but lacked a good likeness of George Washington to complete the design. This was forthcoming early the next year, however. The Washingtons were celebrating their anniversary at the Massachusetts headquarters, when a parcel arrived from Philadelphia containing a drawing of the General on horseback.
The world's first Bandana
George Washington 1776
George Washington wrote a humorous letter of thanks to Joseph Reed "Mrs Washington desires I thank you for the picture sent her. Mr Campbell has made a very formidable figure of the Commander-in-Chief, giving him a sufficient portion of terror in his countenance."
By Summer 1776 patriots were cheering that very image of Washington on America’s very first souvenir bandana! Many followed George Washington’s example by being portrayed as heroes on bandanas in pursuing their political ends.
World War 1 Valentine Fundraising Picturette.
1952 Campaign bandana “Win with Ike for President”
The popularity of printing squares of fabric featuring ideas & matters of consequence continued. Referred to in the early days by some as “ little banners,” bandanas increasingly became a means of economically promoting a range of issues. After all they had the additional attraction of being an extremely versatile item of clothing, uses ranging from a handkerchief, a mask, a headscarf, a neckerchief, through to a means of carrying a bundle of goods, a bandage or a sling!
These were the years preceding industrialization – the bandanas were hand-loomed squares of fabric printed with images to value & save. Bandanas would pay homage to war or sporting heroes; demonstrate support for electoral candidates; & encourage patriotism through both World Wars.
Bandanas as marketing and advertising messages
Widely used as souvenirs, they conveyed the excitement of world fairs; commemorated anniversaries such as the Declaration of Independence; & acted as records of both the landscape & legendary characters of the Wild West.
Branding shown in this bandana of Gene Autry's
ranch in the 1930's.
Proving popular in the advertising world too, bandanas publicised comics & radio shows, other examples being airlines & ocean liners.
Films such as The “Wizard of Oz”, “Gone With the Wind” & “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” were also heralded on bandanas. Nowadays events & issues continue to be preserved in this way, whilst bandanas also persist as pure timeless fashion items at the same time. Martha Washington’s bandanas not only served to fuel admiration for her hero back in 1776 but inspired two other uses of the items – the patriotic “bundle valentine” & the political campaign bandana.
In 1812 a soldier going off to war hoped to bundle up his possessions in a cotton bandana on which his sweetheart had printed a verse for him. On his return, that same bundle invariably carried a silk bandana for her, adorned with words of admiration & patriotic images. Throughout World Wars I & II, when troops went “over there,” the valentine bundles, which were actually used all year round, took mail to the home front. “Picturettes” were less sentimental versions produced as fundraisers & handed out at bond rallies (to support war costs) by celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin, Thomas Edison, Mary Pickford & Babe Ruth.
In the late 1700s, due to the fact that cotton fabric could absorb the same printing ink as the rag paper pages of books (also made from cotton), as well as fitting on the same printing presses, they turned into an economic means of promoting highlights from books. Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” was a case in point.
Further uses of the bandana medium
By the early 1800s, children’s bandanas sported useful information such as sign language. A collection of wild animals, designed to be used as posters, was a further use, as was the use of bandanas for games. In the latter case, some might feature youngsters playing games like Blindman’s Buff or Bluff where, unsurprisingly, the blindfold was a bandana. Pin the mouse on the cat’s nose was another example, as were those featuring dotted outlines & instructions of how to turn the cloth into a doll or other toy.
Kellogg’s “Goldilocks & the Three Bears” bandana
from 1926, which came with instructions for turning it
into a rag doll.
Peddlars & tinkers sold bandanas on the streets or door to door. Come the festive season, stockings hung up awaiting Santa Claus’/Father Christmas’ attention often contained such an item. With the arrival of the motion picture, their stars became marketable commodities of interest to the business world.
1937 bandana of Snow White, Walt Disney’s
first animated feature film.
Tom Mix & his Wonder Horse were such stars of both the silent movies & subsequently a radio show, where each episode ended on a cliff-hanger. Young fans downed their bowls of cereal to secure the box tops that facilitated membership of Tom Mix’s “Straight Shooter Club”. This in turn secured them prizes such as magnet rings & autographed bandanas. Similarly Annie the orphan, accompanied by her dog Sandy, stars of comics, screen & radio, would encourage children to exchange Ovaltine seals for shake-mugs & Flying “W” Ranch bandanas.
New York Yankees bandana.
In the same way that variety, experimentation & imagination became intrinsic elements of popular entertainment in the 18 & 1900s, so were they reflected in the souvenir bandanas that celebrated that entertainment.
Barnum, the entertainer & Circus founder, previewed his “Greatest Show on Earth” in 1833 with parades & striking bandanas fanfaring his elephants Jumbo & Baby.
In 1912, a special edition silk bandana captured ”The Weber & Fields Reunion” & featured photographed heads of Vaudeville Stars on caricatured bodies with the autograph of each below.
A string of Hollywood films were similarly celebrated on bandanas
Elvis & his hits were subsequently silk-screened on bandanas & so immortalised. He was in good company as Beatlemania was also captured on a design commemorating the Liverpool group’s first US tour in 1964.
Tribute to Elvis bandana for fans paying homage
at Gracelands following his death in 1977
The Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney,
George Harrison & Ringo Starr in 1964
Bandanas for the sporting tribes
The world of sport was another natural arena for bandanas. In 1889 a long-awaited & highly publicized, albeit illegal, bare-knuckle bout between the “Great John L. Sullivan & Jake Kilrain took place at a secret location – a lumber camp clearing in Mississippi. In accordance with Prize-Ring Rule No.3, bandanas in the boxers’ chosen colours were tied to the corner posts whilst two others were wound around their waists. In this way, each person in the crowd of 3000 could identify which contender had landed a punch.
The fight lasted an incredible 75 rounds throughout which supporters chanted & waved the colours, before John L. Sullivan proved victorious & became the last of the bare-knuckle champs.
Bandanas were additionally used to get behind sporting heroes on the racetrack, football field & baseball diamond. In 1987 when the World Series was held in Minnesota, fans devoted to the City’s professional baseball team the “Minnesota Twins” queued for blocks to purchase a much coveted “Homer Hanky,” created by the local newspaper to promote its home team. When Dan Gladden hit an impressive grand slam, the stadium resounded to fans singing, “My Baby Waves the Homer Hanky.” Sports commentators around the US reported on this as a unique phenomenon but, in reality, baseball bandanas had already been around a good while e.g. celebrating victory for the Yankees (New York) in 1936; the Reds (Cincinatti) in 1940 & the Giants (San Francisco) in 1954. Editions of the “Homer hanky” bandana have continued to be produced for champion seasons ever since Gladden’s grand slam.
New & exciting events & inventions were immortalised on bandanas. In 1853, the Crystal Palace in Manhattan, a glass & cast iron pre-fab, displayed innovations needed for a picture perfect life. The Exhibit of the Industry of all Nations, covering four acres, became the prototype for subsequent world fairs, including the 1876 Centennial & the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, which celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal.
In 1939 with the advantage of aerial photography facilitating new views of fairs, Art Deco designs were captured on striking bandanas.
So the many & exciting uses bandanas have, & continue to be put to are clear. Commemorating, promoting & celebrating as well as adding daily value as headscarves, sun protectors, neckerchiefs, handkerchiefs, babies’ bibs, bandages, dusters, potholders & dust-masks to name but a few!