Nancy Mayborn Peterson

The most important quota ever, CU classrooms echo words of the enemy

The Homefront, Then and Now

Kilroy Was Here

July 29, 2013

Tags: Mystery man revealed

His image, at least eyes, nose and fingers, was ubiquitous during World War II.You could encounter him anywhere, and he always made you smile. Kids loved him. but so did GIs and the home-front population. There could be some fun in a war, after all. Wherever you were, Kilroy had always been there first, and he wanted you to know it.

When the war was raging, we just enjoyed the mystery. But in 1946 the American Transit Association sponsored a nationwide contest to find the man who could prove he was the real deal. Forty men tried, but only James Kilroy from Halifax, Mass., had the proof. His prize was a trolley car, which he made into a playhouse for his nine kids.

He was a 46-year-old shipyard worker at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Mass, and his job was to go around counting rivets. Riveters got paid by the rivet, and his job was to determine how much they had earned that day. He counted, then marked them with a waxy check mark so the rivets wouldn't be counted twice. However, when Kilroy was off duty, the sneaky riveters would erase the check so their work would get counted again when the foreman came by.

But the foreman smelled something fishy, and Kilroy figured out the scam. How to thwart it was the puzzle. The tight spaces he had to crawl through while counting did not allow him to carry paint, so he took to adding "KILROY WAS HERE," and eventually added the big nose peering over the fence. The riveters got the message and quit their shenanigans, and with no time for niceities like paint, the ships were launched with Kilroy's self-portrait intact.

It tickled the funny bones of thousands of troops who saw it when they shipped out to Europe or the South Pacific. They took to thus-branding wherever local they landed on, claiming the mystery man had been there first! Eventually the Statue of Liberty, top of Mount Everest, and even an outhouse used exclusively by Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt bore the graffiti. Evidently, Kilroy even had reached outer space. The dust of the moon bears the words, "KILROY WAS HERE. The tradition lives on....

Selected Works

Historical Fiction
It's 1942. The World's at war. Hiram's Spring, Nebraska, is awash in fear and hatred. Before it is over the passions the war arouses will forever mar the lives of Sis Greggory, her soldier-brother, Danny, and Horst, a German prisoner of war.
Western History
Torn between two cultures, eleven mixed-blood women fight to discover who and what they are.
Indians, artists, Mormons and scientists all left their footprints in this rich Platte River history.
... a brilliant narrative of the successive cavalcade of fearless men and women who penetrated the far West... Aspects and biographies about the fur trade and the opening of the West have been published with consistency, but no one has used such a strong uniting force as does Peterson.
--Dean Krakel, High Plains Heritage Society

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