Kilroy Was Here


1945
Undoubtedly the most famous piece of graffiti in history, Kilroy Was Here is almost synonymous with American GI’s in World War II. So much so, it’s even engraved in the World War II Memorial in Washington DC.
But tracking down the origins of this ubiquitous phrase is maddening.

There do not seem to be any WWII-era photos of the Kilroy Was Here scribble, despite numerous pleas in military forums asking for such photos.

Nor does the phrase show up in actual WWII newspapers or other publications during the war. Not even the venerable Stars and Stripes mentioned Kilroy until well after the War was over, in their January 7, 1946 issue.

The actual First Mention of Kilroy Was Here isn’t until December 2, 1945 in an article from the Nevada State Journal, which attributes the origin of the phrase to Sgt. Francis J. Kilroy.


 


Though the article claims that the mystery has been solved, the explanation is a bit, er, lacking…he scrawled a message on a bulletin board, and voila, it’s all over the globe?
Perhaps it was the world’s first example of viral marketing.
The origins of Kilroy are usually attributed to another fellow, one James J. Kilroy, a steelyard worker in Massachusetts. You can read a bit more about this at The Straight Dope.
What Cecil doesn’t mention, though, is that James J. Kilroy was the winner of a contest for the best explanation about the origins of the phrase. Forty people entered the contest claiming to have originated the phrase. James J Kilroy’s story was selected as the best one. How much truth there is to this Kilroy’s story is another matter entirely.
But whether it’s James J. or Francis J., there’s no doubt that Francis gets First Mention in the 1945 story, above.
Francis J. was also featured in the 1946 Stars and Stripes article on Kilroy that I mentioned above. You can see it at the bottom of this page, along with a cool cartoon.
WWII newsreels took pains to report on the daily life of the GI’s, but they too are also strangely silent about Kilroy. Once again, it’s not until 1945 that I found a mention in this short film where the narrator (which sure sounds like Bob Hope) refers to all the returning soldiers as ‘Kilroys’.

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Our FirstMention research is carried out in many sources, including historical newspaper archives, online family history records, state archives, and old books.

Know of an earlier First Mention? Drop me a line at david@firstmention.com