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