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Engraving of Kilroy on the WWII Memorial in Washington DC

Kilroy was here is an American popular culture expression 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 — a 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.

In the United Kingdom, the graffiti is known as "Mr Chad" or just "Chad", and the Australian equivalent to the phrase is "Foo was here". "Foo was here" might date from World War I, and 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."[1] "Foo was here" became popular amongst Australian schoolchildren of post-war generations. Other names for the character include Smoe, Clem, Flywheel, Private Snoops, Overby, The Jeep, 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."[2] 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 similar public areas.

Origin and use of the phrase

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

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.'"[3]

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.[4] At some point, the graffito (Chad) and slogan (Kilroy was here) must have merged.[5]

Many sources claim origins as early as 1939.[2][6][7] 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 5/13/1937: Fort Knox's vault was loaded in 1937 and inaccessible until the 1970s, when an audit was carried out and the footage was shot.[8] However, historian Paul Urbahns says that the footage was a reconstruction.[9] According to one story, it was reported that German intelligence found the phrase on captured American equipment. This began leading 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.[1][10] 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."[11]

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."[12][13] 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.[14] It has been claimed that Foo came from the acronym for Forward Observation Officer, but this is likely to be a backronym.[15]

Real Kilroys

The Oxford English Dictionary says simply that Kilroy was "The name of a mythical person".[5] One theory identifies James J. Kilroy (1902–1962),[16] 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 Amalgamated Transit Union to establish the origin of the phenomenon.[17] The article noted that Kilroy had marked the ships themselves as they were being built—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?[18] Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable notes this as a possible origin, but suggests that "the phrase grew by accident."[4]

During World War II he worked at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts, where he claimed to have used the phrase to mark rivets he had checked. The builders, whose rivets J.J. Kilroy was counting, were paid depending on the number of rivets they put in. A riveter would make a chalk mark at the end of his or her shift to show where he had left off and the next riveter had started. Unscrupulous riveters discovered that, if they started work before the inspector arrived, they could receive extra pay by erasing the previous worker's chalk mark and chalking a mark farther back on the same seam, giving themselves credit for some of the previous riveter's work. J.J. Kilroy stopped this practice by writing "Kilroy was here" at the site of each chalk mark. At the time, ships were being sent out before they had been painted, so when sealed areas were opened for maintenance, soldiers found an unexplained name scrawled. Thousands of servicemen may have potentially seen his slogan on the outgoing ships and Kilroy's apparent omnipresence and inscrutability sparked a legend. The slogan began to be regarded as proof that a ship had been checked well, and as a kind of protective talisman.[5][19] Afterwards, servicemen began placing the slogan on different places and especially in newly captured areas or landings, and the phrase took on connotations of the presence or protection of the US armed forces.[19]

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 airbase while ill with flu, and the phrase was picked up by other airmen and quickly spread abroad.[8] 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.[5][20]


Omega is one suggested origin for Chad

Kilroy/Chad as a band-pass filter

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.[1][21] He often appeared with a single curling hair that resembled a question mark and with crosses in his eyes.[22] The phrase "Wot, no —?" pre-dates "Chad" and was widely used separately from the doodle.[8] 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.[23] Chad might have first been drawn by British cartoonist George Edward Chatterton in 1938. Chatterton was nicknamed "Chat", which may then have become "Chad."[1] 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.[22] The character resembles Alice the Goon, a character in Popeye who first appeared in 1933;[24] another name for Chad was "The Goon".[22]

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.[25] 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.[22] The character is usually drawn in Australia with pluses and minuses as eyes and the nose and eyes resemble a distorted sine wave.[24] 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.[26] 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.[21] 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,[27] the latter name also being noted by Life as used by the RAF.[22] 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.[22]

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?"[28] Trains in Austria in 1946 featured Mr. Chad along with the phrase "Wot—no Fuehrer?"[29]

As rationing became less common, so did the joke; while the cartoon is occasionally sighted today as "Kilroy was here",[8] "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.


Writing about the Kilroy phenomenon in 1946, The Milwaukee Journal describes the doodle as the European counter-part to "Kilroy was here", under the name Smoe. It also says that Smoe was called Clem in the African theater.[30] 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.[31] 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".[32] Correspondents to Life magazine 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.[33]

Other names

Similar drawings appear in many countries. Herbie (Canada), Overby (Los Angeles, late 1960s),[34] Flywheel, Private Snoops, The Jeep, and Clem (Canada) are alternative names.[1][2][13] An advert in Billboard in November 1946 for plastic 'Kilroys' also used the names Clem, Heffinger, Luke the Spook, Smoe and Stinkie.[35] "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.[36] 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"[13] (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.

In Poland, Kilroy is replaced with "Józef Tkaczuk", an elementary school janitor (as an urban legend says), "Robert Motherwell" or "M. Pulina".[13] 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 Thatchuk"). In Russia, the phrase "Vasya was here" (Russian: Здесь был Вася) is a notorious piece of graffiti.[37]

In popular culture

“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

Rhyme published in 1955 in A Diller, a Dollar: Rhymes And Sayings For The Ten O’clock Scholar, compiled by Lillian Morrison.[5]

In September 1946, Enterprise Records released a song by NBC singer Paul Page titled "Kilroy Was Here."[38]

Peter Viereck wrote a poem, published in 1948, about the ubiquitous Kilroy, writing that "God is like Kilroy. He, too, Sees it all."[13]

Isaac Asimov's 1955 short story The Message depicts a time-travelling George Kilroy from the thirtieth century as the writer of the graffiti.[13]

Thomas Pynchon's 1963 novel V. includes the proposal that the Kilroy doodle originated from a band-pass filter diagram.[39]

In 1983 the rock band Styx released an album titled Kilroy Was Here, which was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).[40] In 1997, Kilroy was featured on New Zealand stamp #1422 issued on March 19.[41] Kilroy has been seen in a number of television series including M*A*S*H, Seinfeld, Home Improvement, Doctor Who, and Popeye.[41]



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Shackle, Eric (2005-08-07). "Mr Chad And Kilroy Live Again". Open Writing. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "What's the origin of "Kilroy was here"?". The Straight Dope. 2000-08-04. 
  3. LIFE. 17 May 1948. p. 120. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Brewer's: Cassell, 1956. p. 523
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Quinion, Michael. "Kilroy was here". World Wide Words. Retrieved 13 June 2010. 
  6. Sickels, Robert (2004). "Leisure Activities". The 1940s. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 113. 
  7. Brown, Jerold E. (2001). "Kilroy". Historical dictionary of the U.S. Army. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 264. ISBN 0-313-29322-8. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Martin, Gary. "Kilroy was here". Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  9. "Kilroy Was Here in 1937 . . . Well, not really". "Kilroy Was Here" Sightings page 4. Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  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. "Frequently Asked Questions, 251 to 300". Retrieved 2010-06-14. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 Dziatkiewicz, Łukasz (4 November 2009). "Kilroy tu był" (in Polish). Polityka.,1, Retrieved 13 June 2010. 
  14. 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. 
  15. "foo". The Jargon File 4.4.7. 29 December 2003. Retrieved 13 June 2010. 
  16. James J. Kilroy at Find a Grave
  17. "Kilroy Was Here". Amalgamated Transit Union. 1946. p. 14. 
  18. "Transit Association Ships a Street Car To Shelter Family of 'Kilroy Was Here'", The New York Times, December 24, 1946.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Johnson, Carolyn Y. (12 May 2005). "Kilroy was here: Quincy celebrating link to WWII icon created by shipyard scribbler". Boston Globe. Retrieved 13 June 2010. 
  20. Associated Press (14 November 1945). ""Kilroy" Mystery is Finally Solved". The Lewiston Daily Sun.,3592510. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 "WW2 People's War – Mr. CHAD". BBC. 2005-01-24. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 22.4 22.5 Reeve, Elizabeth (18 March 1946). "Wot! Chad's Here". Life Magazine. Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  23. 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. 
  24. 24.0 24.1 Zakia, Richard D. (2002). Perception and imaging. Focal Press. p. 245. ISBN 0-240-80466-X. 
  25. "Changing Patterns in World Graffiti". Ludington Daily News. 16 March 1977.,5785548&dq=kilroy+chad&hl=en. Retrieved 13 June 2010. 
  26. "Dimpled and pregnant". The Guardian. 25 November 2000. Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  27. "Wot no respect?". RAF Related Legends. RAF Cranwell Apprentices Association. 9 December 2009. Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  28. Plimer, Denis (1 December 1946). "No. 1 Doodle". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 13 June 2010. 
  29. "Mr. Chad travels". Schenectady Gazette. 12 October 1946.,1420808. Retrieved 13 June 2010. 
  30. "There Are Places Nobody Ever Was Before, but Look, Kilroy Was There". The Milwaukee Journal. 28 November 1946.,6309168. Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  31. "Once Honorably Discharged, Kilroy is Here, but No Smoe". The Milwaukee Journal. 9 December 1946.,5204006. Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  32. Stewart, John Laurence (1998). The forbidden diary: a B-24 navigator remembers. McGraw-Hill. p. 45. ISBN 0-07-158187-1. 
  33. "Letters to the Editor: Miscellany". Life Magazine. 16 November 1962. Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  34. 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. Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  35. Chas. Demee MFG. Co. (9 November 1946). "At last Kilroy is here (advert)". Billboard. Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  36. "American notes & queries: a journal for the curious". 1945. 
  37. Palveleva, Lily (24 March 2008). "Ключевое слово: "граффити"" (in Russian). Радио Свобода. Retrieved 30 August 2010. 
  38. "Record Reviews". Billboard. 14 September 1946. Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  39. Ascari, Maurizio; Corrado, Adriana (2006). Sites of exchange: European crossroads and faultlines. Internationale Forschungen zur allgemeinen und vergleichenden Literaturwissenschaft. 103. Rodopi. p. 211. ISBN 90-420-2015-6. 
  40. Recording Industry Association of America. "Gold and Platinum Searchable Database". RIAA. Retrieved April 10, 2013. 
  41. 41.0 41.1 Melvin, Morris (January 2007). "Kilroy Was Here--On Stamps.". p. 30. ISSN 1082-9423. 

Further reading

  • Walker, Raymond J. (July 1968). "Kilroy was here. a history of scribbling in ancient and modern times". p. 98N-98O. ISSN 0018-2907. 
  • "Who Is 'Kilroy'?". The New York Times Magazine. January 12, 1947. p. p. 30. 

External links

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