Quite a number of things “went viral” long before the internet – many of which did so in a manner similar to what is presently known as ‘tagging’.

 

There are countless legends of how this came to pass, but the most probable scenario involves one James J Kilroy who worked at a naval shipyard in the 1930s and 1940s.  Supposedly criticized for being lax in his inspections, he would tag his work with the words “Kilroy was here” to prove he had done his job.  (In a 2007 documentary on Fort Knox, “Kilroy was here” was found inscribed in one of the gold vaults dated 5/13/1937.)
Early in WWII, it was rumored that Axis leaders believed “Kilroy was here” to either be a secret code used by Allied forces or taunting by an Allies super-spy.  Allied forces (American GIs in particular) leaped at the opportunity for creating mayhem and began scrawling “Kilroy was here” at every opportunity.  This is when the “Foo Face” (a gremlin-like icon used in a similar manner by Australian forces during WWI) became linked with the phrase – the combination quickly ‘went viral’ and Axis intelligence went bonkers trying to figure out who Kilroy was and what the message meant.

In the 1960s, J R R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy exploded into a world-wide phenomenon.  Frodo Baggins’ survival against all odds in opposition to the overwhelming power and oppression of Sauron was adopted by the counter-culture of the 1960s as an icon of “faith for the oppressed”.  “FRODO LIVES!” went viral and found its way onto just about every public surface available.

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Andre the Giant was a professional wrestler and celebrity icon of the 1980s – enormous, powerful, and exceptionally polite both in and out of the ring.  What began as an in-joke poking fun at the east-coast skateboarding community quickly exploded into a world-wide phenomenon.  When gangsta rappers began referring to fans as their ‘posses’, the tagging subverted into “Andre the Giant has a posse” and went completely viral.

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