Kilroy was here

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Engraving of Kilroy on the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The opening scene "Kilroy was here" graffiti at Bikini Atoll, atomic bomb test film in 1946

Kilroy was here is a meme[1] that became popular during World War II, typically seen in graffiti. Its origin is debated, but the phrase and the distinctive accompanying doodle became associated with GIs in the 1940s: a bald-headed man (sometimes depicted as having a few hairs) with a prominent nose peeking over a wall with his fingers clutching the wall.

"Mr Chad" or just "Chad" was the version that became popular in the United Kingdom. The character of Chad may have been derived from a British cartoonist in 1938, possibly pre-dating "Kilroy was here". According to Dave Wilton, "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."[2] Other names for the character include Smoe, Clem, Flywheel, Private Snoops, Overby, Eugene the Jeep, Scabooch, and Sapo.

According to Charles Panati, "The outrageousness of the graffiti was not so much what it said, but where it turned up."[3] It is not known if there was an actual person named Kilroy who inspired the graffiti, although there have been claims over the years.

Origin and use of the phrase[edit]

A depiction of Kilroy on a piece of the Berlin Wall in the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

The phrase may have originated through United States servicemen who would draw the picture and the text "Kilroy was here" on the walls and other places where they were stationed, encamped, or visited. An ad in Life magazine noted that WWII-era servicemen were fond of claiming that "whatever beach-head they stormed, they always found notices chalked up ahead of them, that 'Kilroy was here'".[4] 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.[5] At some point, the graffiti (Chad) and slogan (Kilroy was here) must have merged.[6]

Many sources claim origin as early as 1939.[3][7][8] Earlier examples of the phrase dating from 1937 are unverified.

According to one story, German intelligence found the phrase on captured American equipment. This led Adolf Hitler to believe that Kilroy could be the name or codename of a high-level Allied spy.[9] At the time of the Potsdam Conference in 1945, it was rumored that Stalin found "Kilroy was here" written in the VIP bathroom, prompting him to ask his aides who Kilroy was.[2][10] War photographer Robert Capa noted a use of the phrase at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944: "On the black, charred walls of an abandoned barn, scrawled in white chalk, was the legend of Gen. Anthony McAuliffe's soldiers: KILROY WAS STUCK HERE."[11]

Foo was here[edit]

Digger History, the Unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Services, says of Foo that "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" predates the American version of World War II, "Kilroy was here", by about 25 years.[dubious ] "Foo" was thought of as a gremlin by the Royal Australian Air Force.[12] It has been claimed that Foo came from the acronym for Forward Observation Officer.[citation needed]

Real Kilroys[edit]

James J. Kilroy in 1933

The Oxford English Dictionary says simply that Kilroy was "the name of a mythical person".[6]

One theory identifies James J. Kilroy (1902–1962), an American shipyard inspector, as the man behind the signature.[6] James Kilroy had served on the Boston City Council and represented the Roxbury district in the Massachusetts Legislature during the 1930s. He worked at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy during the war checking the work of riveters paid by how many rivets they installed.[13] Usually, inspectors made a small chalk mark which riveters used to erase, so that they would be paid double for their work. To prevent this, Kilroy marked work he had inspected and approved with the phrase "Kilroy was here" in more durable crayon.[14]

More than 40 candidates claimed to have originated the phrase and cartoon in response to a 1946 contest conducted by the American Transit Association to establish the origin of the phenomenon.[15][8][16] James Kilroy was credited after his claim was verified by shipyard officials and the riveters whose work he inspected. While Kilroy's marks might normally have been painted over, interior painting was a low priority in the rush to launch ships, so Kilroy's marks were seen by thousands of servicemen who sailed aboard troopships built at Quincy.[13] A New York Times article noted that Kilroy had marked the ships as they were being built as a way to be sure that he had inspected a compartment, and the phrase would be found chalked in places that nobody could have reached for graffiti, such as inside sealed hull spaces.[16] Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable notes this as a possible origin, but suggests that "the phrase grew by accident."[5]

The Lowell Sun reported in November 1945 that Sgt. Francis J. Kilroy Jr. from Everett, Massachusetts, 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.[17] The Associated Press similarly reported Sgt. Kilroy's account of being hospitalized early in World War II, and his friend 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, according to the AP account, and other airmen soon picked it up. Francis Kilroy only wrote the phrase a couple of times.[6][18]


The Greek letter omega is one suggested origin for Chad.
Kilroy/Chad as an RLC circuit arranged to create a band-stop filter, originally drawn in Thomas Pynchon's 1963 novel V.[19]

The figure was initially known in the United Kingdom as "Mr Chad" and would appear with the slogan "Wot, no sugar" or a similar phrase bemoaning shortages and rationing.[2][20] He often appeared with a single curling hair that resembled a question mark and with crosses in his eyes.[21] The phrase "Wot, no __?" pre-dates "Chad" and was widely used separately from the doodle.[17] Chad was used by the RAF and civilians; he was known in the army as Private Snoops, and in the navy he was called The Watcher.[22] Chad might have first been drawn by British cartoonist George Edward Chatterton in 1938. Chatterton was nicknamed "Chat", which may then have become "Chad".[2] Life Magazine wrote in 1946 that the RAF and army were competing to claim him as their own invention, but they agreed that he had first appeared around 1944.[21] The character resembles Alice the Goon, a character in Popeye who first appeared in 1933,[23] and another name for Chad was "The Goon".[21]

A spokesman for the Royal Air Force Museum London suggested in 1977 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.[24] Life suggested that Chad originated with REME, and noted that a symbol for alternating current resembles Chad (a sine wave through a straight line), that the plus and minus signs in his eyes represent polarity, and that his fingers are symbols of electrical resistors.[21] The character is usually drawn in Australia with pluses and minuses as eyes and the nose and eyes resemble a distorted sine wave.[23] The Guardian suggested in 2000 that "Mr. Chad" was based on a diagram representing an electrical circuit. One correspondent said that a man named Dickie Lyle was at RAF Yatesbury in 1941, and he drew a version of the diagram as a face when the instructor had left the room and wrote "Wot, no leave?" beneath it.[25] This idea was repeated in a submission to the BBC in 2005 which included a story of a 1941 radar lecturer in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, who drew the circuit diagram with the words "WOT! No electrons?"[20] 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. This version was initially called Domie or Doomie,[26] and Life noted that Doomie was used by the RAF.[21] REME claimed that the name came from their training school, nicknamed "Chad's Temple"; the RAF claimed that it arose from Chadwick House at a Lancashire radio school; and the Desert Rats claimed that it came from an officer in El Alamein.[21]

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 was on the side of a British 1st Airborne Division glider in Operation Market Garden with 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?"[27] Trains in Austria in 1946 featured Mr. Chad along with the phrase "Wot—no Fuehrer?"[28]

As rationing became less common, so did the joke. The cartoon is occasionally seen today as "Kilroy was here",[17] but "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.


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.[29] 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.[30] 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".[31] 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.[32]

Other names[edit]

Similar drawings appear in many countries. Herbie (Canada), Overby (Los Angeles, late 1960s),[33] Flywheel, Private Snoops, The Jeep, and Clem (Canada) are alternative names.[2][3][34] An advertisement in Billboard in November 1946 for plastic "Kilroys" also used the names Clem, Heffinger, Luke the Spook, Smoe, and Stinkie.[35] Luke the Spook was the name of a B-29 bomber, and its nose-art resembles the doodle and is said to have been created at the Boeing factory in Seattle.[36] In Chile, the graphic is known as a "sapo"[34] (slang for nosy).

In Poland, Kilroy is replaced with "Józef Tkaczuk" or "M. Pulina".[34] In Russia, the phrase "Vasya was here" (Russian: Здесь был Вася) is a notorious piece of graffiti.[37]

In popular culture[edit]

Peter Viereck wrote in 1948 that "God is like Kilroy. He, too, Sees it all."[34]

Kilroy is seen scrawling "Kilroy is here" on a wall in Tennessee Williams's 1953 play Camino Real, which he revises to "was" before his final departure. Kilroy functions in the play as "a folk character...who here is a sort of Everyman."[38] The graffiti appears on the cover of the first edition published by New Directions. Isaac Asimov's short story "The Message" (1955) depicts a time-travelling George Kilroy from the 30th century as the writer of the graffiti.[34]

Thomas Pynchon's novel V. (1963) includes the proposal that the Kilroy doodle originated from a band-pass filter diagram.[19]

Ken Young wrote a parody of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas which was transmitted to Apollo 8 on 25 December 1968. It featured the lines "When what to his wondering eyes should appear, but a Burma-Shave sign saying, 'Kilroy was here'."[39]

In the 1975 M*A*S*H episode The Bus, Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) writes "Kilroy" in a dust-encrusted bus window as B.J. Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell) peers out from behind the window, his hands and nose resting on its top edge.[40][41]

In 1983, rock band Styx released their seventh studio album, Kilroy Was Here. The album functions as a light rock opera, telling the story of Robert Kilroy, a rock and roll performer who was placed in a futuristic prison for "rock and roll misfits" by the anti-rock-and-roll group the Majority for Musical Morality (MMM) and its founder Dr. Everett Righteous.[42] When Jonathan Chance (played by guitarist Tommy Shaw) finally meets Kilroy at the very end of the song Mr. Roboto, Kilroy unmasks and yells, "I'm Kilroy! Kilroy!" ending the song.

Kilroy was also featured on New Zealand stamp #1422 issued on 19 March 1997.[43]

In the opening credits of the 2009 American sitcom Community, two Kilroys are drawn in blue ink on the inside of a paper fortune teller, their noses forming the L's of lead actor Joel McHale's name.[44]



  1. ^
    • "Kilroy was here".
    • Edwards, Phil (11 December 2015). "The World War II meme that circled the world". Vox.
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    • Moyle, Taylor (31 July 2018). "The Story Behind Kilroy, Probably the First Meme to Exist". INSH.
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  8. ^ a b Brown, Jerold E. (2001). "Kilroy". Historical dictionary of the U.S. Army. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 264. ISBN 0-313-29322-8.
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  10. ^ Rottman, Gordon L.: FUBAR: Soldier Slang of World War II ISBN 978-1-84603-175-5
  11. ^ Capa, Robert (1947). Slightly Out of Focus. Henry Holt and Co.
  12. ^ Patridge, Eric; Beale, Paul (1986). A dictionary of catch phrases: British and American, from the sixteenth century to the present day. Routledge. p. 136. ISBN 0-415-05916-X.
  13. ^ a b O'Donnell, Richard W. (Winter 1989). "Kilroy was Here". Naval History. 3 (1). United States Naval Institute: 36.
  14. ^ Shackle, Eric. "Mr. Chad and Kilroy live again". Eric Shackle's eBook - Chad & Kilroy. Retrieved 2 February 2020. In 1943, 32,000 employees worked at the Fore River Shipyard. One of them was James J. Kilroy, a Welding Inspector. He used chalk to mark the rivets and plates he inspected. The "Kilroy Was Here" mark was found throughout the U.S.S. Massachusetts Battleship and many others.
  15. ^ "Kilroy Was Here". In Transit. 54–55. Amalgamated Transit Union: 14. 1946.
  16. ^ a b "Transit Association Ships a Street Car To Shelter Family of 'Kilroy Was Here'", The New York Times, 24 December 1946.
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  21. ^ a b c d e f Reeve, Elizabeth (18 March 1946). "Wot! Chad's Here". Life Magazine. Retrieved 14 June 2010.
  22. ^ Partridge, Eric; Beale, Paul (2002). A dictionary of slang and unconventional English: colloquialisms and catch phrases, fossilised jokes and puns, general nicknames, vulgarisms and such Americanisms as have been naturalised (8 ed.). Routledge. p. 194. ISBN 0-415-29189-5.
  23. ^ a b Zakia, Richard D. (2002). Perception and imaging. Focal Press. p. 245. ISBN 0-240-80466-X.
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  25. ^ McKie (Smallweed), David (25 November 2000). "Dimpled and pregnant". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 June 2010.
  26. ^ "Wot no respect?". RAF Related Legends. RAF Cranwell Apprentices Association. 9 December 2009. Archived from the original on 18 August 2010. Retrieved 14 June 2010.
  27. ^ Plimer, Denis (1 December 1946). "No. 1 Doodle". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 4 February 2014. Retrieved 13 June 2010.
  28. ^ "Mr. Chad travels". Schenectady Gazette. 12 October 1946. Retrieved 13 June 2010.
  29. ^ "There Are Places Nobody Ever Was Before, but Look, Kilroy Was There". The Milwaukee Journal. 28 November 1946. Retrieved 14 June 2010.
  30. ^ "Once Honorably Discharged, Kilroy is Here, but No Smoe". The Milwaukee Journal. 9 December 1946. Retrieved 14 June 2010.
  31. ^ Stewart, John Laurence (1998). The forbidden diary: a B-24 navigator remembers. McGraw-Hill. p. 45. ISBN 0-07-158187-1.
  32. ^ "Letters to the Editor: Miscellany". Life Magazine. 16 November 1962. Retrieved 14 June 2010.
  33. ^ Nelson, Harry (11 September 1966). "Wall writers turn away from big-nosed favorite of World War II: Kilroy Was Here, but Oger and Overby Take Over". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 7 November 2012. Retrieved 14 June 2010.
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  37. ^ Palveleva, Lily (24 March 2008). Ключевое слово: "граффити". Радио Свобода (in Russian). Retrieved 30 August 2010.
  38. ^ Donahue, Francis (1964). The Dramatic World of Tennessee Williams. New York: Ungar. p. 64.
  39. ^ Go, Flight! The Unsung Heroes of Mission Control. p. 133.
  40. ^ ""M*A*S*H" The Bus (TV Episode 1975)". IMDb.
  41. ^ Sawyer, Corinne Holt (1984). "Kilroy Was Here-But He Stepped Out for a Minute! Absentee Characters in Popular Fiction (With Particular Attention to M*A*S*H)". The Journal of Popular Culture. 18 (2): 157–169. doi:10.1111/j.0022-3840.1984.1802_157.x.
  42. ^ "Serious Issues Underlie a New Album from Styx". The New York Times. 27 March 1983. Retrieved 12 April 2023.
  43. ^ Melvin, Morris (January 2007). "Kilroy Was Here--On Stamps". U.S. Stamp News. 13 (1): 30. ISSN 1082-9423.
  44. ^ NBC's Community Intro, archived from the original on 18 November 2021, retrieved 26 June 2020

Further reading[edit]

  • Kilroy, James J. (12 January 1947). "Who Is 'Kilroy'?". The New York Times Magazine. p. 30. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 6 June 2014.
  • Walker, Raymond J. (July 1968). "Kilroy was here: A history of scribbling in ancient and modern times". Hobbies: The Magazine for Collectors. 73: 98N–98O. ISSN 0018-2907.

External links[edit]