Kilroy enshrined. An engraving of Kilroy on the World War II Monument in Washington, D. C.
In 1946 the American Transit Association
, through its radio program, 'Speak to America
', sponsored a nationwide contest to find the REAL Kilroy
, offering a prize of a real trolley car to the person who could prove himself to be the genuine article. Almost 40 men stepped forward to make that claim, but only James Kilroy
from Halifax, Massachusetts
had evidence of his identity.
was a 46-year old shipyard worker during the war. He worked as a checker at the Fore River Shipyard
in Quincy. His job was to go around and check on the number of rivets completed. Riveters were on piecework and got paid by the rivet.
would count a block of rivets and put a check mark in semi-waxed lumber chalk, so the rivets wouldn't be counted twice. When Kilroy
went off duty, the riveters would erase the mark.
Later on, an off-shift inspector would come through and count the
rivets a second time, resulting in double pay for the riveters. One day Kilroy
's boss called him into his office. The foreman was upset about all the wages being paid to riveters, and asked him to investigate. It was then that he realized what had been going on.
The tight spaces he had to crawl in to check the rivets didn't lend
themselves to lugging around a paint can and brush, so Kilroy
decided to stick with the waxy chalk. He continued to put his checkmark on each job he inspected, but added Kilroy WAS HERE
in king-sized letters next to the check, and eventually added the sketch of the chap with the long nose peering over the fence and that became part of the Kilroy
message. Once he did that, the riveters stopped trying to wipe away his marks.
Ordinarily the rivets and chalk marks would have been covered up with
paint. With war on, however, ships were leaving the Quincy Yard
so fast that there wasn't time to paint them.
As a result, Kilroy
's inspection 'trademark' was seen by thousands of servicemen who boarded the troopships the yard produced. His message apparently rang a bell with the servicemen, because they picked it up and spread it all over Europe
and the South Pacific
. Before the war's end, 'Kilroy
' had been here, there, and everywhere on the long haul to Berlin
To the unfortunate troops outbound in those ships, however, he was a
complete mystery; all they knew for sure was that some jerk named Kilroy
had 'been there first.' As a joke, U.S.
servicemen began placing the graffiti wherever they landed, claiming it was already there when they arrived.
became the U.S. super-GI who had always 'already been' wherever GIs went. It became a challenge to place the now familiar logo in the most unlikely places imaginable (it is said to be atop Mt. Everest
, the Statue of Liberty
, the underside of the Arch De Triumphe
, and even scrawled in the dust on the surface of the moon.)
And as the war went on, the legend grew. Underwater demolition teams routinely sneaked ashore on Japanese-held
islands in the Pacific
to map the terrain for the coming invasions by U.S.
troops (and thus, presumably, were the first GIs there). On one occasion, however, they reported seeing enemy troops painting over the Kilroy
In 1945, an outhouse was built for the exclusive use of Roosevelt
, and Churchill
at the Potsdam
conference. The first person inside was Stalin
, who emerged and asked his aide (in Russian
), 'Who is Kilroy
To help prove his authenticity in 1946, James Kilroy
brought along officials from the shipyard and some of the riveters. He won the trolley car, which he gave to his nine children as a Christmas gift and set it up as a playhouse in the Kilroy
front yard in Halifax, Massachusetts
So, now you know the story (and as long as you don't forget why they call them 'stories', you should be alright).