Promo History

What is the History of Keychains?

Do you remember that family vacation you took to Disney World? Chances are, if you have a Mickey Mouse keychain on your car keys, you think about that trip every day. While they may be small and sold all over the country, keychains still make an enormous impact. They are great giveaway items for a wide variety of companies and events.

Who invented the keychain? How are they used today? Let’s dive into a complete look at the history of keychains!

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Their purpose is infinite – from decorative pom poms to souvenir bottle openers – our keychains can simply be personal treasures or miniature extensions of our identity.

Erika Houle, author of The Psychology of Keychains

Hour Glass

History of Keychains Timeline

Gift shops in museums, hotels, and other destinations have sold keychains for years. However, these small objects started as luck tokens for ancient civilizations.

  • 600 BC

    Source: amazon.com

    The Celts associated rabbits with good luck, believing they could communicate with spirits of the underworld in their burrows. Carrying a rabbit’s foot came to be associated with improved fertility.

  • 1893

    Source: amazon.com

    One of the first souvenir keychains was used during the World Columbia Exposition in Chicago. Better known as the Chicago’s World Fair, this event was also responsible for introducing the world to the very first Ferris wheel.

  • 1894

    Source: The Black Inventors and Scientists Museum, Inc.

    Frederick J. Loudin, a famous Jubilee singer, is credited as the inventor of the keychain fastener. He was a Civil Rights activist who traveled with a group of students from Fisk University.

  • 1914

    Source: iwm.com

    During World War II, soldiers carried luck tokens around on the battlefield. This shamrock was carved from Connemara marble and had a hole in the top for a cord or chain.

  • Late 1920s

    Source: ebay.com

    Keychains became an extremely popular souvenir item for tourists. Philadelphia celebrated the Centennial of the Liberty Bell with copper-colored keychains featuring the national landmark.

  • 1939

    Source: ebay.com

    The National Baseball Hall of Fame celebrated their first induction ceremony with custom metal keychains. Famous players like Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth were among the athletes who made the cut.

  • 1942

    Source: slate.com

    Soldiers carried luck keychains during World War II. This one was a pig carved out of Irish bog oak and was collected by British folklorist Edward Lovett.

  • 1946

    Source: https://www.whitehousegiftshop.com

    The White House opened their gift shop in the basement. Former President Harry S. Truman made it official, and today the store continues to sell fun diplomatic collectibles like these metal keychains.

  • 1950s

    Source: ebay.com

    Many car manufacturers started offering customized keychains with a vehicle purchase. This metal Ford keychain is from Ridout Motors, a popular dealership in Dallas, Texas.

  • 1960s

    Source: George Mangion, keychain collector in England.

    According to collector George Mangion, there was a “keychain tsunami” in France. There were thousands released, such as the ones pictured here, including a keychain in the shape of a paint can.

  • 1970s

    Source: pinterest.com

    Hallmark pulled at our heartstrings with adorable oversized keychains. These made great gifts for a variety of holidays including Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and Christmas.

  • 1980s

    Source: youtube.com

    A variety of companies advertised with keychains. Their logo or advertising message was printed on regular paper and inserted into a hard plastic case.

  • 1990s

    Source: youtube.com

    Rubber keychains were super popular for companies. They were fairly inexpensive and easy to mold into a variety of shapes, including the popular #1 for sports teams and key shapes for realtors.

  • 2000s

    Source: brit.co

    Dual purpose keychains were all the rage, coming with additional tools like flashlights and tape measures. This one is a self-defense tool that fits around your knuckles and appropriately looks like Batman.

  • 2009

    Source: https://www.oddee.com

    The digital age allowed for even more innovation in the keychain’s design. The camera pictured here featured a 1.5 inch LCD screen that showed up to 60 images in full color!

  • 2011

    Source: thedodo.com

    Vendors in China started selling live animals in keychains. Each trinket featured tiny amphibious creatures that were suspended in colorful liquid with beads and other decorations.

  • 2016

    Source: : https://www.realitycheckxtreme.com

    Major moments in history can be honored on a custom keychain. The Chicago Cubs celebrated their landmark World Series win with commemorative keychains.

  • 2018

    Source: https://blog.key.me

    This genius keychain pairs your keys to your phone via Bluetooth technology. If you lose your keys, an alert goes off on your phone notifying you of their whereabouts.

What Are Ancient Luck Objects or Tokens?

Before keychains were sold in gift shops everywhere, they started as luck tokens in ancient civilizations. If you’ve ever been to an arcade, you’re familiar with the dyed “rabbit’s foot” keychain you can get for about 10 tickets. That foot is actually based on real objects carried by the Celts in 600 BC. The only difference is they would cut the foot off an actual rabbit since they believed it could communicate with the underworld in its burrow. It was seen as good luck to carry a rabbit’s foot on twine as it was associated with improved fertility.

source: greekboston.com

The Celts weren’t the only ones carrying around luck tokens and amulets. The Metropolitan Museum in New York has an ancient Egyptian artifact on display. It’s a hedgehog carved out of soapstone that was carried around on string. Little is known about why this was considered lucky, but scholars believe it has to do with hedgehogs being strong creatures capable of withstanding tough conditions. There were also those in the Middle East who believed wholeheartedly in the power of the “evil eye.” This talisman was carried on string and would transfer negative energy to the looker. These are only a few of the many luck tokens that have existed since the beginning of time. The Celts, Egyptians, and many other ancient civilizations paved the way toward a future of carrying small trinkets.

source: greekboston.com
Did you know?

In Japan, three keys tied together are considered a powerful lucky charm. They symbolize the ability to unlock the doors that lead to love, health, and wealth.

Who Invented the Keychain Fastener?

Thankfully, we stopped carrying animal feet around with us with the rise of new materials during the Industrial Revolution. Aluminum, stainless steel, and plastic were more accessible than ever and innovators like Frederick J. Loudin saw this as an opportunity to create new products like the world’s first keychain fasteners.

Loudin belonged to the Jubilee Singers, a group of African-American musicians from Fisk University. These students wanted to raise money to save their university from bankruptcy through their music and toured along the Underground Railroad, as well as across England and Europe. The troupe performed for notable names like Queen Victoria, the Czar of Russia, and the Emperor of Germany.

Source: The Colored American, Washington, District of Columbia

At 34-years-old, Loudin, who was originally from Ravenna, Ohio, was the oldest member of the Jubilee Singers and had already passed the point of pursuing higher education. As such, he had room to focus on other endeavors, including tinkering with metal. In 1894, he received a patent for his invention of the keychain fastener, a well-designed fork-shaped device that held the key near the lock on the door. This was enormously impactful in making homes more secure from robberies.

Due to the rampant racism that was going on during the Jim Crow era, Loudin wasn’t given credit for his work. Instead he was incredibly mistreated by the public and had a difficult time securing a job and adequate lodging for his family. Still, there’s no denying how his innovation and bravery contributed to both the world of keychains and American civil rights. Today, the Black Inventions and Scientists Museum recognizes that contribution by honoring Loudin in their traveling tour.

Source: The Colored American, Washington, District of Columbia

What is the History of the Car Key?

Keychains would likely have not become as popular if it wasn’t for Henry Ford’s invention of the Model T. The groundbreaking car was first in production in 1908 at the Piquette Avenue plant in Detroit. Soon enough, many manufacturers started popping up all over the world.

Source: sbi.com

The car key is the difference between Model T’s and the ones we use to commute to work every day. Back when they were first coming out, vehicles had to be physically cranked in order to start. However, by the end of World War I, their power and size increased, leading to the development of electric motors that required keys and ignitions. Some of the first car keys were used for Chrysler, Ford, and Chevrolet. The dealership would send their customers driving away with a customized keychain featuring the manufacturer of the car. This promotional item added a personal touch to the keyring and made drivers more likely to stay loyal to a specific car brand.

Source: sbi.com

How Did Keychains Become Popular?

Cars, and eventually the construction of the first highway in 1956, allowed people to travel more easily than ever before. As a result, tourism took off at the speed of light. It became big business to encourage visitors to go all over the country, from the White House in Washington D.C. to the Statue of Liberty in New York. Gift shops opened at these popular landmarks and sold everything from t-shirts to tote bags to keychains.

Source: ebay.com

With the ease that came with cars, people could also pack up and move to a new town. Real estate became a thriving business as there was a demand for new construction. The Baby Boom was underway, and these new families needed a place to shack up and start their lives. It was common for realtors to advertise their services with a keychain attached to the new house key. This was a great way to build referrals, a practice still used by real estate agents today.

Source: ebay.com
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Even though it’s a small item, keychains are one of those things that people always want to see. That keychain may hold the key to your home, and that’s the best piece of marketing I could have.

Paul Skager, Licensed Realtor with Keller Williams

Keychains in the 60s & 70s

People were feeling warm and cozy in their new cars and homes and keychains were a part of these milestone moments. After the Vietnam War, the country was still feeling the aftermath of the Summer of Love. People were optimistic about the future and that positivity was reflected in merchandise like Hallmark’s oversized keychains.

Source: pinterest.com

The company was started by 18-year-old Joyce Clyde Hall in Kansas City, Missouri. Together with his brother Rollie Hall, the two built an empire founded on postcards and greeting cards. By the 1970s, the company grew in exciting ways under Hall’s grandson Donald J. Hall. More stores and products were introduced, including oversized keychains. While these were way too big to fit in a pocket, they were a fun alternative to classic Christmas or Valentine’s Day cards. Now you’ll see this same sentimental touch in all the items sold by Hallmark.

Source: pinterest.com

Meet a Keychain Collector

It’s not uncommon to develop a sentimental attachment to your keychains. These tiny trinkets can symbolize major moments from weddings and graduations to family reunions and vacations. There are collectors all over the world who want to capture these moments in all their metal and plastic glory.

George Mangion is one such collector in the Malta area, an island near Sicily. He has been collecting for over 20 years and has over 5,000 keychains, with the goal of eventually opening his own museum. Mangion receives his keychains via donations, but also acquires special ones from his family and friends. For example, his daughter brought home a Cyclops keychain from Etnaland, a large amusement park in Southern Italy. His collection also features other fun keychains like ones commemorating the World Cup in Russia, Coca-Cola, and different department stores.

Source: George Mangion, Keychain Collector in England

Magnion’s dedication to keychains isn’t surprising considering the wide variety in colors, styles, shapes, and sizes. Each one is unique and has a story to tell. There’s no better way to start a conversation than by passing out an eye-catching keychain.

Source: George Mangion, Keychain Collector in England
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It is a well-known fact that when people go out they take their keys with them. By carrying keychains around, you’ll have thousands of people carrying around your advert for free.

George Mangion, Keychain Collector in England

Why Advertise with Keychains?

The world will always need new cars, homes, and places to travel. Keychains are small mementoes that are part of major moments in a person’s life, from getting their first set of wheels at sixteen to closing on a new home to visiting Machu Picchu. It will always be a good idea to turn to these collectibles to advertise your company, especially if you print your logo and name in a fun shape or bright design.

Source: George Mangion, Keychain Collector in England

Stats for Success

Souvenir keychains outsell shirts and other merchandise in gift shops.

Angel Alvarez Cornejo, a collector in Spain, has the most keychains in the world with 62,527 total.

Keychains are one of the least expensive promotional products, starting as low as 30 cents each.

The Bottom Line

Many events and tourist destinations are promoted with collectible keychains. These items were once associated with luck in ancient civilizations, and even today, they bring good fortune to those who use them to advertise. Take the time to appreciate the powerful statement that’s sitting next to your car and house keys.

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products. She has a BA in English & Communications and has written for Counselor Magazine and The Bolingbrook Sun. If you need her, you’ll find her buried in research, in the middle of a phone interview, or singing way off-tune in her office.

References

The White House Gift Shop. (2018). The White House Gift Shop: Established 1946. Retrieved July 3, 2018, from https://www.whitehousegiftshop.com/The-White-House-Gift-Shop-Official-Information -s/2240.htm

Symbol Arts. (2018). Got Keys, Got a Key Chain? Retrieved July 3, 2018, from

Key Chains

Jedeikin, M. (2016, July 3). The Creepy Reason Why a Rabbit’s Foot is So Lucky. Retrieved July 3, 2018, from https://omgfacts.com/the-creepy-reason-why-a-rabbits-foot-is-so-lucky/

Heart, A. (2018). List of a Few Inventions by People of Color. Retrieved July 3, 2018, from http://theblackinventionsmuseum.org/BISMuseums/List_of_Inventions.html

Woodson, C. (1917). The Journal of Negro History, Volume 2. Lancester, PA: The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.

Ward, A. (2000). Dark Midnight When I Rise: The Story of the Jubilee Singers. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Rogers, J.A. (1934). Your History: Franklin J. Loudin. Pittsburgh, PA: Courier Publishing Company.

Hodon, S. (2016, June 1). Tiny Treasures: Small Souvenir Best-Sellers. Souvenirs, Gifts, & Novelties Magazine.

Guinness World Records. (2016, June 25). Largest Collection of Keychains. Retrieved July 5, 2018, from http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/largest-collection-of-keychains

Hallmark. (2018). Founding 1910s. Retrieved July 5, 2018, from

Founding: 1910s

Thorpe, J. (2016, January 4). 7 Good Luck Charms From History That You Probably Don’t Know About. Retrieved July 6, 2018, from https://www.bustle.com/articles/132820-7-good-luck-charms-from -history-that-you-probably-dont-know-about

Exmplore. (2014, December 15). 50 Good Luck Symbols From Around the World. Retrieved July 5, 2018, from https://exemplore.com/misc/goodlucksigns

Exmplore. (2014, December 15). 50 Good Luck Symbols From Around the World. Retrieved July 5, 2018, from https://exemplore.com/misc/goodlucksigns

Beard, D. (2017, December 25). The Evolution of Car Keys is More Interesting Than You Think. Retrieved July 6, 2018, from https://www.caranddriver.com/news/the-evolution-of-car-keys-is-more -interesting-than-you-think

Gerson, L. (2016, June 13). How American Tourism Began. Retrieved July 6, 2018, from

How American Tourism Began