Billiken, the God of Motor Cars

| 7/14/2015 12:11:00 PM

Billiken, the God of Motor Cars 

A Billiken Company ad from 1909. (Courtesy of History of Early American Automobile Industry, 1861-1929, by Royal Feltner)

Back in 1910, being a motorist wasn’t at all easy. Cars broke down or got stuck on the terrible roads of the day, and on any trip of five or 10 miles you were sure to experience at least one flat tire. However, for the sum of only $5 you could purchase a little brass talisman that, when affixed to the hood of your car, would protect you from all these hazards.

In 1908, an illustrator and art teacher in Kansas City named Florence Pretz drew a fanciful creature she named “Billiken.” Ms. Pretz claimed to have seen the pixie-like little man in a dream and drew him as sitting with his short legs stretched out in front of him and his bare toes pointed up. His face had slanted eyes and a broad, mischievous smile, and he had pointed ears and a tuft of hair on his pointy head, while his short arms were straight down at his sides.

The design was sold to the Billiken Company of New York City, who proceeded to advertise the Billiken character as “The God of Things as They Ought to Be,” that would bring good luck to anyone who owned one.

The Billiken caught the imagination of the American public, and dolls, coin banks, good luck charms and other depictions of the little guy sold like wildfire. Etilmon Justice (E.J.) Stark even wrote and published sheet music in 1913 for a ragtime piano number called the “Billiken Rag,” and Blanche Ring, a popular singer and actress of the era sang a song called “The Billiken Man.” The chorus of the song went: “Billiken, Billiken, you funny creation, you look so cute that you’ve a queer fascination; Smile upon me I want to be as lucky as I can be. ‘Cause you’re the God of all things as they ought to be. Funny, sunny, all the money, the Billiken man, the Billiken Man.” Catchy, isn’t it?


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