Kilroy was here is an American meme that became popular during World War II; it is typically seen in graffiti. Its origins are debated, but the phrase and the distinctive accompanying doodle – bald-headed man (sometimes depicted as having a few hairs) with a prominent nose peeking over a wall with the fingers of each hand clutching the wall – became associated with GIs in the 1940s.
"Kilroy" was the American equivalent of the Australian Foo was here, which originated during World War I and later became popular amongst schoolchildren.
"Mr Chad" or just "Chad", was the version that became popular in the United Kingdom. The character of Chad may have derived from a British cartoonist in 1938, possibly pre-dating "Kilroy was here".
Etymologist Dave Wilton says, "Some time during the war, Chad and Kilroy met, and in the spirit of Allied unity merged, with the British drawing appearing over the American phrase." Other names for the character include Smoe, Clem, Flywheel, Private Snoops, Overby, The Jeep (as both characters had sizable noses), and Sapo.
Author Charles Panati says that in the United States "the mischievous face and the phrase became a national joke... The outrageousness of the graffiti was not so much what it said, but where it turned up." The major Kilroy graffiti fad ended in the 1950s, but today people all over the world still scribble the character and "Kilroy was here" in schools, trains, and other public areas.
It is believed that James J. Kilroy was the origin of the expression, as he used the phrase when checking ships at the Fore River Shipyard in Massachusetts during WWII.
Origin and use of the phrase
The phrase may have originated through United States servicemen, who would draw the doodle and the text "Kilroy was here" on the walls and other places they were stationed, encamped, or visited. An ad in Life magazine noted that WWII-era servicemen were fond of claiming that "[w]hatever beach-head they stormed, they always found notices chalked up ahead of them, that 'Kilroy was here'".
Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable notes that it was particularly associated with the Air Transport Command, at least when observed in the United Kingdom. At some point, the graffiti (Chad) and slogan (Kilroy was here) must have merged.
Many sources claim origins as early as 1939. An early example of the phrase being used may date from 1937, before World War II. A US History Channel video broadcast in 2007, Fort Knox: Secrets Revealed, includes a shot of a chalked "KILROY WAS HERE" dated 1937-05-13: Fort Knox's vault was loaded in 1937 and inaccessible until the 1970s, when an audit was carried out and the footage was shot. However, historian Paul Urbahns who was involved in the production of the program says that the footage was a reconstruction.
According to one story, it was reported that German intelligence found the phrase on captured American equipment. This began leading Adolf Hitler to believe that Kilroy could be the name or codename of a high-level Allied spy. At the time of the Potsdam Conference in 1945, it was rumored that Stalin found "Kilroy was here" written in the VIPs' bathroom, prompting him to ask his aides who Kilroy was. War photographer Robert Capa noted a use of the phrase at Bastogne in December 1944: "On the black, charred walls of an abandoned barn, scrawled in white chalk, was the legend of McAuliffe's GIs: KILROY WAS STUCK HERE."
Foo was here
Main article: Foo was here
"Foo was here" graffiti is said to have been widely used by Australians during World War I: "He was chalked on the side of railway carriages, appeared in probably every camp that the 1st AIF World War I served in and generally made his presence felt." If this is the case, then "Foo was here" pre-dates "Kilroy was here" by about twenty years.
The phrase "Foo was here" was used from 1941–45 as the Australian equivalent of "Kilroy was here". "Foo" was thought of as a gremlin by the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II, and the name may have derived from the 1930s cartoon Smokey Stover, in which the character used the word "foo" for anything he could not remember the name of. It has been claimed that Foo came from the acronym for Forward Observation Officer, but this is likely to be a backronym.
The Oxford English Dictionary says simply that Kilroy was "The name of a mythical person". One theory identifies James J. Kilroy (1902–1962), an American shipyard inspector, as the man behind the signature. The New York Times indicated J.J. Kilroy as the origin in 1946, based on the results of a contest conducted by the American Transit Association to establish the origin of the phenomenon. The article noted that Kilroy had marked the ships themselves as they were being built, when they were unmarked, as a way to be sure he had inspected a compartment – so, at a later date, the phrase would be found chalked in places that no graffiti-artist could have reached (inside sealed hull spaces, for example), which then fed the mythical significance of the phrase – after all, if Kilroy could leave his mark there, who knew where else he could go? Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable notes this as a possible origin, but suggests that "the phrase grew by accident."
The Lowell Sun reported in November 1945, with the headline "How Kilroy Got There", that a 21-year-old soldier from Everett, Sgt. Francis J. Kilroy, Jr., wrote "Kilroy will be here next week" on a barracks bulletin board at a Boca Raton, Florida airbase while ill with flu, and the phrase was picked up by other airmen and quickly spread abroad. The Associated Press similarly reported at the same time that according to Sgt. Kilroy, when he was hospitalized early in World War II, a friend of his, Sgt. James Maloney, wrote the phrase on a bulletin board. Maloney continued to write the shortened phrase when he was shipped out a month later, and other airmen soon picked up the phrase. Francis Kilroy himself only wrote the phrase a couple of times.
The figure was initially known in the UK as "Mr Chad". Chad would appear with the slogan "Wot, no sugar", or a similar phrase bemoaning shortages and rationing. He often appeared with a single curling hair that resembled a question mark and with crosses in his eyes. The phrase "Wot, no —?" pre-dates "Chad" and was widely used separately from the doodle. Chad was used by the RAF and civilians; in the army Chad was known as Private Snoops, and in the Navy he was called The Watcher. Chad might have first been drawn by British cartoonist George Edward Chatterton in 1938. Chatterton was nicknamed "Chat", which may then have become "Chad." Life Magazine in 1946 said that the RAF and Army were competing for claiming him as their own invention, but they agreed that he had first appeared around 1944. The character resembles Alice the Goon, a character in Popeye who first appeared in 1933; another name for Chad was "The Goon".
A theory suggested by a spokesman for the Royal Air Force Museum London in 1977 was that Chad was probably an adaptation of the Greek letter Omega, used as the symbol for electrical resistance; his creator was probably an electrician in a ground crew. Life suggested that Chad originated with REME, and noted that a symbol for alternating current, a sine wave through a straight line, resembles Chad, that the plus and minus signs in his eyes represent polarity, and that his fingers are symbols of electrical resistors. The character is usually drawn in Australia with pluses and minuses as eyes and the nose and eyes resemble a distorted sine wave. Similarly, The Guardian noted in 2000 that several readers had told them that "Mr. Chad" was based on a diagram representing an electrical circuit. One correspondent said that in 1941 at RAF Yatesbury a man named Dickie Lyle drew a version of the diagram as a face when the instructor had left the room, and wrote "Wot, no leave?" beneath it. This idea was repeated in a submission to the BBC in 2005 that included a story of a 1941 radar lecturer in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire drawing the circuit diagram, and the words "WOT! No electrons?" being added. The RAF Cranwell Apprentices Association says that the image came from a diagram of how to approximate a square wave using sine waves, also at RAF Yatesbury and with an instructor named Chadwick, and was initially called Domie or Doomie, the latter name also being noted by Life as used by the RAF. As alternatives to Chatterton or Mr Chadwick as the origin of the name Chad, REME claimed that the name came from their training school, nicknamed "Chad's Temple", the RAF claimed it arose from Chadwick House at a Lancashire radio school, and the Desert Rats claimed it came from an officer in El Alamein.
It is unclear how Chad gained widespread popularity or became conflated with Kilroy. It was, however, widely in use by the late part of the war and in the immediate post-war years, with slogans ranging from the simple "What, no bread?" or "Wot, no char?" to the plaintive; one sighting, on the side of a British 1st Airborne Division glider in Operation Market Garden, had the complaint "Wot, no engines?" The Los Angeles Times reported in 1946 that Chad was "the No. 1 doodle", noting his appearance on a wall in the Houses of Parliament after the 1945 Labour election victory, with "Wot, no Tories?" Trains in Austria in 1946 featured Mr. Chad along with the phrase "Wot – no Fuehrer?"
As rationing became less common, so did the joke; while the cartoon is occasionally sighted today as "Kilroy was here", "Chad" and his complaints have long fallen from popular use, although they continue to be seen occasionally on walls and in references in popular culture. It is a common misconception that the graffiti was tied to the Berlin Wall, "Chad" long pre-dated the wall.
"Smoe" redirects here. For the fictional name, see Joe Shmoe.
Writing about the Kilroy phenomenon in 1946, The Milwaukee Journal describes the doodle as the European counterpart to "Kilroy was here", under the name Smoe. It also says that Smoe was called Clem in the African theater. It noted that next to "Kilroy was here" was often added "And so was Smoe". While Kilroy enjoyed a resurgence of interest after the war due to radio shows and comic writers, the name Smoe had already disappeared by the end of 1946. A B-24 airman writing in 1998 also noted the distinction between the character of Smoe and Kilroy (who he says was never pictured), and suggested that Smoe stood for "Sad men of Europe". Correspondents to Life magazine in 1962 also insisted that Clem, Mr. Chad or Luke the Spook was the name of the figure, and that Kilroy was unpictured. The editor suggested that the names were all synonymous early in the war, then later separated into separate characters.
Similar drawings appear in many countries. Herbie (Canada), Overby (Los Angeles, late 1960s), Flywheel, Private Snoops, The Jeep, and Clem (Canada) are alternative names. An advert in Billboard in November 1946 for plastic 'Kilroys' also used the names Clem, Heffinger, Luke the Spook, Smoe and Stinkie. "Luke the Spook", the nose-art on a B-29 bomber of the same name, resembles the doodle and is said to have been created at the Boeing factory in Seattle. In the Australian variant, the character peeping over the wall is not named Kilroy but Foo, as in "Foo was here". In the United Kingdom, such graffiti is known as "Chad" or "Mr Chad". In Chile, the graphic is known as a "sapo" (slang for nosy); this might refer to the character's peeping, an activity associated with frogs because of their protruding eyes. In neighboring Peru, Kilroy is sometimes known as "Julito", which started as a running joke in that country's Foreign Ministry and is often seen scribbled on the whiteboards. A similar peeping idea set the name used in Brazil, O Moita.
In Poland, Kilroy is replaced with "Józef Tkaczuk", an elementary school janitor (as an urban legend says), "Robert Motherwell" or "M. Pulina". Graffiti writings have the form of sentences like "Gdzie jest Józef Tkaczuk?" ("Where is Joseph Tkatchuk?") and "Tu byłem – Józef Tkaczuk" ("I was here – Joseph Tkatchuk"). In Russia, the phrase "Vasya was here" (Russian: Здесь был Вася) is a notorious piece of graffiti.
In popular culture
Kilroy has been seen in a number of television series and films including American Dad!, Doctor Who, Fringe, Futurama, Home Improvement, Kelly's Heroes, M*A*S*H, The New Avengers, Popeye the Sailor, and Seinfeld; in the video games Halo 3, Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway, Fallout: New Vegas, "Alfred Hitchcock Presents", Dino D-Day, "Skate 3", and Everybody's Gone to the Rapture; and in the animated series Adventure Time, in the episode ″Too Old″, as Finn the Human's signature. Additionally:
- In September 1946, Enterprise Records released a song by NBC singer Paul Page titled "Kilroy Was Here."
- Peter Viereck wrote a poem, published in 1948, about the ubiquitous Kilroy, writing that "God is like Kilroy. He, too, Sees it all."
- In the 1948 Looney Tunes short, Haredevil Hare (directed by Chuck Jones), Bugs Bunny has just landed on the moon, and believes he is the first living creature there. Contradictory to what he says, a rock not far away is revealed that reads "Kilroy was here."
- Isaac Asimov's short story "The Message" (1955) depicts a time-travelling George Kilroy from the 30th Century as the writer of the graffiti.
- British rock band The Move included a song titled "Kilroy Was Here," written by Roy Wood, on their debut album.
- Kilroy is mentioned in the following rhyme, published in A Diller, a Dollar: Rhymes and Sayings For the Ten O’clock Scholar (1955), compiled by Lillian Morrison:
Clap my hands and jump for joy;
I was here before Kilroy.
Sorry to spoil your little joke;
I was here, but my pencil broke. — Kilroy
- Steve Hart's novel Citizen Survivor's Handbook features several altered illustrations of Mr Chad by M. J. Trow.
- Thomas Pynchon's novel V. (1963) includes the proposal that the Kilroy doodle originated from a band-pass filter diagram.
- In 1965 The Wonderful World of Disney aired an episode called 'Kilroy' starring Warren Berlinger.
- The Styx album titled Kilroy Was Here (1983) was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). A Styx song, "Mr. Roboto", ends with the line "I'm Kilroy."
- In 1997, Kilroy was featured on New Zealand stamp #1422 issued on 19 March.
- Ann Packer's popular novel The Dive From Clausen's Pier (2002) features a character named Kilroy, a nickname derived from "Kilroy Was Here."
- Pioneer Drama Service produced a two-act musical about the Kilroy legend, attributing it to a fictional Private Joe Kilroy.
- In the 2007 Canadian show Total Drama Island, Kilroy can be seen in every episode in the graffiti of the outhouse.
- In the 1948 movie I Love Trouble detective Stuart Bailey writes "Killroy Was Here" on a pillow next to a sleeping girl.
- In the UK the popular comedy show Hi-De-Hi briefly re-introduced a Chad craze in 1984 after the episode "The Epidemic" (series 5, episode 33).
- A musical sketch starring the Chad once appeared on the 1996 BBC children's TV mini-series Spywatch (part of Look & Read), teaching the 'ch' sound. The eponymous Chad character uses the "What, no...?" catchphrase throughout his song, using words and naming items of food which start with the letters 'ch', such as chocolate.
- Designer Eric Elms introduced Kilroy to a new generation with his rendition of the character, which has become a ubiquitous meme in streetwear in recent years. In 2011 Stussy Japan exhibited selections from Wish You Were Here, a collection of the designer's Kilroy works published in 2009, in which the character is typically seen peaking over various cultural icons and popular trademarks. Stussy released a range of t-shirts to coincide with the show, and Elms has since collaborated with a number of other prominent streetwear labels, including Clot, Brain Dead, Original Fake, and Wood Wood, on designs incorporating Kilroy. The character also figures prominently in Powers, a clothing project launched in 2016 by Elms and Brain Dead's Kyle Ng.
- In the 2000 graffiti-tagging action game, Jet Set Radio, a playable character named Slate bears a strong resemblance to Kilroy.