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.
Kilroy 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.
Kilroy 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 wa sn’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 and Tokyo.
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.
Kilroy became the U.S. super-GI who had always “already been”
wherever GIs went. It became a challenge to place the 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 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 GI’s there). On one occasion, however,
they reported seeing enemy troops painting over the Kilroy logo! In
1945, an outhouse was built for the exclusive use of Roosvelt,
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 it to his nine children as a Christmas
gift and set it up as a playhouse in the Kilroy front yard in