If you were brought up in the forties, fifties, or sixties, you have probably seen the “Kilroy Was Here” logo. It first started showing up all over Europe and the Pacific during WWII. It consisted of a face with a big long nose and two large round eyes. The nose and face were hanging over a wall and sometimes the fingers of both hands would be shown gripping the top of the wall. No other parts of the body would show over the wall. The expression, “Kilroy Was Here” would always accompany the drawing.
This logo was sometimes found by Gls when they first entered a newly liberated city in Europe. In WWII, GIs rushed to be the first to put the Kilroy logo everywhere they landed. It would show up in the most unlikely spots and would sometimes be found in areas that had been occupied by the Germans or Japanese. Hitler became obsessed with the “Super GI” who showed up in the most top secret German installations. He became convinced that Kilroy was a super spy and could infiltrate the most top secret German installations. He became so obsessed with it he ordered his best men to try to capture this super spy. The logo has been found on the Arch of Triumph in Paris, the George Washington Bridge in New York, and written in dust on the moon. At the Potsdam Conference in 1945, a toilet was built especially for Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin. Stalin was the first one to use it and when he came out, he asked an aide who Kilroy was.
The American Transit Association sponsored a radio program called, “Speak to America”. In 1946, the Association held a nationwide contest to try to determine who the real Kilroy was. As a result of the contest, it was determined that the real Kilroy was none other than James J. Kilroy of Halifax, Massachusetts. He was an inspector of the riveting gangs in the Fore River Shipyard during WWII. He would count the amount of rivets done by various crews and then leave scribbled in bright yellow chalk the words, “Kilroy was Here” on the steel. The riveters were paid by the amount of holes filled. By writing “Kilroy Was Here”, Jim Kilroy was proving to his bosses that he was on the job. It also stopped unscrupulous riveters from having the same holes counted twice and being paid double. Ships were leaving Quincy so fast during the war that in many cases, Kilroy’s words and logos were never painted over. So the logo traveled all over the world and was copied by GIs in every port or city they landed in.
The American Transit Association presented to Mr. Kilroy a prize of a 22 ton streetcar which Kilroy placed in his yard and converted into sleeping quarters for his children.
Reprinted by permission from the book The Shipyard, will it float? by David Drummond – Available on amazon.com.
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KilroyWasHere.org has been described as a “National Treasure.” The website includes hundreds of first hand stories, thousands of images, book reviews, strange, surprising and amazing stories — and much, much more. It is moved to the Library of Congress every 6 months for “future historians and writers.”