Kilroy Was Here
The doodle and phrase seems to be everywhere that US Soldiers have visited throughout the years. It is really cool to think that something like this went viral before the term going viral even came to be. So who is Kilroy and where does he come from? Now that is an interesting story.
The origin of the doodle part, the bald man, big nose, hands looking over a wall, most likely originated in Britain in the early days of WWII. That character, named Mr. Chad, was a response to the rations during the war. His image would appear on walls with a phrase such as “Wot? No tea?” Or whatever was in short supply at the time. US servicemen stationed in Britain took note of Mr. Chad and took him onto the continent during the invasion of France.
The name Kilroy is a little tougher to nail down. For the most part it is thought that Kilroy wasn’t a real person, just a neat name to go with the image. There is however at least one possibility that makes sense. In 1946 a radio contest tried to find out where the name came and phrase came from. One of the contestants was James J. Kilroy, a steel worker from Massachusetts. During the war his primary job was inspecting tanks and ship hulls.
As Kilroy explained to the ATA:
I started my new job with enthusiasm, carefully surveying every inner bottom and tank before issuing a contract. I was thoroughly upset to find that practically every test leader [the head of a work crew] I met wanted me to go down and look over his job with him, and, when I explained to him that I had already checked the job and could not spare the time to crawl through one of those tanks again, he would accuse me of not having looked the job over.
I was getting sick of being accused of not looking the jobs over and one day as I came through the manhole of a tank I had just surveyed, I angrily marked with yellow crayon on the tank top, where the tester could see it, ‘Kilroy was here.’
The following day, a test gang leader approached me with a grin on his face and said, ‘I see you looked my job over.’ I nodded in agreement.
Kilroy figured that other workers may have seen his mark and took the expression with them when the went in the military. He was able to provide witness and collaboration for the events and won the contest.
That seems like a good enough answer to me. The best Kilroy story though by far is from the Potsdam Conference in 1945. Churchill, Truman and Stalin were meeting to make their plans for the post war world. During a break Stalin reportedly went into one of the restrooms. When finished he came out asking one of his aids who Kilroy was. Not even Uncle Joe could avoid a visit by Kilroy!