In 1914, in order to promote the fraternity's patriotic goals, the East End Council No. 101, Jr. Order of United American Mechanics, Brooklyn, New York, conceived of circulating an album around the United States to collect autographs of the president and the governors of all the states.
The Junior Order of United American Mechanics is a fraternal organization, which was founded in 1853 in Philadelphia. The major objectives of the order are stated in their bylaws of 1959. These are:
- "To maintain and promote the interest of Americans and shield them from the depressing effects of unrestricted immigration, to assist them in obtaining employments, and to encourage them in business."
- "To provide for the creation of a fund or funds for the payment of donations incase of Sickness, Disability or Death of its members, to members, their legal dependents or representatives."
- "To uphold the American Public School System, prevent interference therewith, and to encourage the reading of the Holy Bible in the Schools thereof."
- "To promote and maintain a National Orphans Home."
In 1900, there were over 200,000 members. However, by the 1960s and 1970s its popularity had declined to about 8,500 members. It still exists today with its national headquarters in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The story of the journey of this book is particularly American one. The first person to sign the album was President Woodrow Wilson on June 15, 1915 (as seen in photograph above). After leaving Wilson's hands, the leather album was sent to each state's governor, who was asked via correspondence by the album's author and editor, Joseph Wright Wootton (b. 1870), to sign his designated page. The album was sent to states in the order in which they were admitted to the union. Because of this, the album began its journey in Delaware in 1915 and ended in Arizona in 1916 and was then sent back to Brooklyn, New York.
During the album's journey around the United States, a committee of the Junior Order of United American Mechanics decided to circulate an American flag with the album. The wife of each governor was asked to sew on one star onto the blue square of the flag and send Wootton her calling card, signed with her name. Before the book was circulated to collect all of the autographs, artist, Albert Heinmuller (b. 1862), made watercolor drawings of each state seal and decorated each title page with gold letters. Both Wootton and Heinmuller lived in Brooklyn, New York and were members of the East End Council No. 101, Jr. Order of United American Mechanics.
The traveling album had several mishaps during its journey. The album and flag were lost several times. Often the governor of a state kept the album longer than was intended, but, by way of showing how the book struck a chord, some governors showed the album off at various state events. When the album was sent to the Governor of Massachusetts, Samuel Walker McCall, in 1916, he mistook it for a bomb and almost destroyed it! The last person to sign the album was President Warren G. Harding on May 11, 1921, quite a while after its journey around the United States.
Both the album of autographs and the flag were carefully kept by the East End Council, No. 101 (which merged with Franklin Council No. 16). In 2010, the album of autographs, the flag, and associated correspondence were donated to the National Heritage Museum.
Autograph Album, Joseph Wright Wootton and Albert Heinmuller, 1915-1916. Gift of Dr. & Mrs. John F. Ladik, Mr & Mrs. John d'Agostino, Alfred Thomson, Mr. & Mrs. Ronald Thomson, Jr., A2010/41/1.