An Expert on Presidents: University of Findlay Alumnus and Historian James (Jim) Taylor ’72
James (Jim) Taylor ’72 first started collecting presidential memorabilia in fifth grade, during the 1960 election between John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon. What started with a button, quickly grew to a collection over 3,000, including more than 100 presidential busts, bumper stickers, signed pictures and political posters, and replicas of chairs sat in by Lincoln and JFK.
A passion for history grew into a career, as Jim spent 30 years as a history teacher at Riverdale Local Schools. During that time he used his political items to visualize history lessons, bringing in items from his collection to educate and fascinate his students. His collection then found its way to Jim’s classrooms at the University of Findlay, where he was an adjunct professor. “In class, especially in topics with history, it’s so easy for students to drift off. You have to keep it interesting,” he said.
Jim’s collection features an even display of both political parties, with clocks, toys, campaign items, and buttons of both Democratic and Republican candidates. Jim’s collection grew so large over the years, that his wife agreed to build onto the home and create a dedicated “History Room” within their home.
Jim’s favorite items are his JFK buttons. “I was almost 13 when he was assassinated,” said Jim. “Kennedy was killed at a time that I was starting to take an interest in politics, and it just so happened to be a major historical event that stuck with me,” he added. Jim’s collection of buttons stretch across his walls, but the corner closest to the entrance of his history room holds his most prized collection items. “I even have a ‘JFK for ’64’ button, but he didn’t get an opportunity to do that,” said Jim.
Chatting with Jim, you get a feeling for his passion for history, and the pride he takes in his collection. What you quickly learn is, politics and presidents played a major role in not only his life, but that of his family. “My son and I were walking in D.C., and up comes President Clinton jogging at like seven in the morning,” recalls Jim. “I looked at my son and said, ‘Matt, stay with me here,’ and I yelled out ‘Mr. President, will you come over and take a picture with my son?’ He ran over and that picture now hangs on my wall.”
Jim said his kids never had the same enthusiasm that he has for collecting, stating, “they lived through all of it with me. They went to President Carter’s church and they visited the White House, but it was always ‘Dad’s thing.’” However, Jim was excited to see his grandkids start to take an interest in presidential history. “When they come over, they come in and ask, ‘who’s that little boy right there?’ (pointing at a replica of the statue by David Frech) and I tell them ‘That’s Tad Lincoln and his daddy was the President, but he was killed. That statue is in Richmond, Virginia.’ I love that,” Jim said. “That’s not politics—that’s history!” Jim also said that his grandkids have started to memorize all the presidents in order…a feat their grandpa is very proud of.
Even after decades of collecting, Jim is always looking for additional items to add to his collection, but said he has learned a valuable lesson over the years. “You cannot purchase things with your heart because they’ll nail you,” said Jim, talking about haggling over the purchasing of items. “That’s why it has taken so long to collect some of my favorite items.” Jim showcases items from decades of elections, including a replica of the chair that Lincoln was sitting in when he was killed, and a chair that was hand-made by the same individual that made JFK’s special office chairs. The collection also features pictures and signed autographs of first ladies and vice presidents.
Jim continues to collect and search for items, and he continues to help educate, currently serving as a University of Findlay student teacher field supervisor in the University’s College of Education. His passion for history and educating other may never end, “so long as I can keep walking and talking, I’m going to keep at it,” he says.
While President’s Day only comes once a year, Jim and his family get to enjoy their room of history year-round.