The words “KILROY WAS HERE” and a simple
drawing of a face peeking over a fence were written on any surface US
servicemen came near during World War II, usually meant to be the mark
of the first American GI to arrive at that place. Kilroy’s face was so
ubiquitous wherever American servicemen went, especially in Europe, that
rumors popped up saying Hitler himself issued orders to find Kilroy and
that Stalin came face-to-face with Kilroy inside a Potsdam outhouse.


In this context, the text and the drawing
were inseparable; but they actually have separate origins. Alternate
accounts exist, but the most widely accepted origin of “KILROY WAS HERE”
trace to James J. Kilroy of Halifax, Massachusetts, USA. On 24 December
1946, the New York Times wrote:

During the war [Kilroy] was employed at the Bethlehem Steel Company’s
Quincy shipyard, inspecting tanks, double bottoms and other parts of
warships under construction. To satisfy superiors that he was performing
his duties, Mr. Kilroy scribbled in yellow crayon “Kilroy was here” on
inspected work. Soon the phrase began to appear in various unrelated
places, and Mr. Kilroy believes the 14,000 shipyard workers who entered
the armed services were responsible for its subsequent world-wide use.

Some versions say JJ Kilroy’s chalk
markings started in order to end cheating by some riveters, but the
earliest accounts from Kilroy himself have no mention of this.

The ships JJ Kilroy was inspecting were
being sent out before they were painted, so when sealed areas were
opened for maintenance, sailors found the unexplained name scrawled.
Thousands of servicemen may have potentially seen his slogan on the
outgoing ships and Kilroy’s omnipresence and inscrutability sparked the



The cartoon figure of a little man
looking over a wall came from British popular culture and was known as
“Mr. Chad.” Mr. Chad was usually drawn with the words, “Wot? No _____?”
with the blank filled in with an item in short supply, such as “Wot? No
Petrol?” or “Wot? No Bread?” (Mr. Chad appeared on the side of a Horsa
glider used in Operation Market Garden by the British 1st Airborne
Division with the tag, “Wot, No Engines?”). Australian popular culture
had a similar Mr. Foo who may trace to World War I.

Most sources attribute Mr. Chad to George
Chatterton, a British cartoonist, in about 1938. Mr. Barry H. Smith of
Worcester, England offers a more intriguing origin:

“Mr. Chad” was born in 1941 at a secret
school in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire that was teaching “Radio-Location,”
now called “Radar.” A lecturer was illustrating on a blackboard the
effect of a capacitor in a circuit. How the drawing started is shown in
the above pictures.

Later, an unknown genius added the
question mark and the now immortal words “WOT! No Electrons?” (all of
them having been discharged, of course).

[Given the British sense of humor, it
seems more likely that the lecturer contrived his presentation so that
it resulted in the already well known Mr. Chad, but it’s a good story.]

Once “KILROY WAS HERE” and the image of
Mr. Chad were joined together, they made their way to every corner of
the American presence, especially in newly captured areas or landings.
Navy UDT divers landing on Japanese held islands in advance of Allied
landings even reported finding “KILROY WAS HERE” on Japanese pillboxes.
Kilroy was so much a part of the American war experience that in 2004 he
even found his place on the US National World War II Memorial in
Washington, DC.


Sources: Wikipedia; BBC Peoples War; World Wide Words; B-26 Marauder Historical Society; The Legends of “Kilroy Was Here”.