The 1960 presidential race was one of the closest elections in U.S. history, but 50 years ago today, John F. Kennedy won the White House. Although the charismatic young senator from Massachusetts only made it by a narrow margin, a well-waged marketing campaign gave him the edge. The public was saturated with Kennedy-branded ephemera—from buttons and plastic hats to bumper stickers—that made the little-known senator a part of the collective consciousness. "The campaign would rather have 100 people wearing a button for the candidate than watching a commercial," says American History Museum curator Larry Bird. "It creates this effect," adds fellow curator Harry Rubenstein, "that everybody is considering and turning to Kennedy." (For a more in-depth look at JFK campaign memorabilia, watch the above video.)
And today is a perfect day to consider Kennedy and how he made his way into the executive mansion. For those of you touring the Smithsonian, find JFK in the National Portrait Gallery's Hall of Presidents. (For those of you who can't be here in person, you can take a virtual tour.) Also be sure to swing by the American History Museum's exhibition The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden where you can see inauguration memorabilia as well as a board game inspired by the Kennedy White House. (Yes, you read that right: the First Family even had its own board game sporting fabulous Mt. Rushmore-inspired artwork.) Smithsonian.com also has pieces that will give you a glimpse of Kennedy while he was a naval officer serving aboard PT-109 during World War II, insight into how televised debates helped him win the presidency and an intimate look at the First Family on the eve of JFK's inauguration.