Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Kilroy was here!

There are competing claims about the source of the classic graffito "Kilroy was here," but the origin has not been definitively determined. There seem to be a confluence of elements that came together during World War II.

American James J. Kilroy (1902-1962) was working at a shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts, inspecting rivets and marking the phrase in chalk where each riveter's work left off. Because ships were sent out before they were painted, thousands of troops may have seen the slogan and repeated it as soon as they arrived in the places they were stationed. The joke was that "Kilroy" had preceded them, even to the most remote locations. Englishman George Edward Chatterton is the cartoonist to whom the drawing is sometimes attributed. "Chad," as he was called, was accompanied by the phrase, "Wot, no _______?" [filling in the blank, for instance with Spam, cigarettes, or other goods that were in short supply]. At some point, Chad and Kilroy merged and the American phrase began appearing under the British drawing.

Although Kilroy has been the most popular, there are international variations on the theme: "Herbie" and "Clem" in Canada, "Foo" in Australia, "El Fisgon" in Mexico, "Tosun" in Turkey, "Sapo" in Chile, "Jozef Tkaczuk" in Poland... It was James Kilroy, though, who convinced the judges of a contest held by the Transit Company of America in 1946 that he was the original. The prize: a trolley car, which he used as an addition to his house to better serve his family of 9 children. As much as Kilroy got around, he obviously spent some time at home!

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