Supermen of America Club

Supermen of America, 1939

The first Supermen of America Club membership application was published in Superman #1 (Summer 1939). The same announcement appeared two weeks later in Action Comics #14 (July 1939). For ten cents in coins or stamps, Charter Members received a welcome letter, membership certificate, pinback button, and "Superman's Secret Code" card.

Supermen of America - Superman's Secret Code (1939-1965)
"You must promise not to tell anyone the code and you must promise to strive for strength, courage and justice - just like SUPERMAN does."

The fold-out code card contains nine different cipher keys used to decode "Superman's Secret Message!" printed in issues of Action Comics and Superman. The first message appeared in Action Comics #15 (August 1939). Unlike the Superman-Tim Club code, "Superman's Secret Code" remained unchanged each year from 1939–1965. A "Kryptonic Code" was included with new membership cards in 1966. The Supermen of America Club was supplanted by the DC Super-Stars Society in 1977, followed by the DC Superman Club in 1980.

In 1939, members that recruited three friends received a premium Action Comics emblem patch. The felt emblems measure approximately 5.5 inches in diameter. The emblem offer appeared in Action Comics #16–18 and Superman #2. Approximately 20 of the original emblems are estimated to exist in private collections. A "Leader" variation of the patch was offered as a premium from Superman Candy & Surprise, manufactured by the Leader Novelty Candy Co. in Brooklyn.

Supermen of America, Action Comics Felt Emblem, 1939Supermen of America, Leader Felt Emblem, 1939

Advertisements in Action Comics #20, #21, and Superman #3 promoted "The greatest contest in comic book history!" From November 1939 until January, 28, 1940, club members could enter to win over 2,000 prizes. Winners were chosen for the best responses in 100 words of less to "What I would do if I had the powers of Superman." The winners were announced in Action Comics #25 (June 1940). Fourth place awarded 100 sweatshirts with the felt Supermen of America emblem. Sixth place awarded 1,600 adjustable "Supermen of America Member" rings.

The prize rings were also sold for ten cents and five Superman Gum wrappers. The original rings are made of silver-colored brass with red enamel paint. Approximately two dozen examples of the "Supermen of America Member" rings are estimated to exist. A rare "Action Comics" prototype does not include the lightning bolts or planet found on the prize rings. An illustrated image of the "Action Comics" ring appeared in Action Comics #20, #21, and Superman #3. There are nine "Action Comics" prototype rings known to exist.

Supermen of America Member Ring, 1940

Superman Gum trading cards were released by Gum, Inc. in late 1940. Each wax wrapper contains a Supermen of America membership application certificate. For five wrappers plus the normal ten cent application fee, new members could chose between the Supermen of America ring or a cloisonné "Superman American" pinback badge. The badge was also available for free by recruiting ten new members.

The gum wrappers could be exchanged by mail for premiums that included the Superman Krypto-Raygun toy from Daisy, a wooden Superman doll from Ideal, and a caped Superman Playsuit. The first appearance of the word "kryptonite" was an advertisement for the Krypto-Raygun in Action Comics #8 (January 1939). Some of the premiums were previously sold at Macy's Toyland.

Gum, Inc. - Supermen of America Prize Brochure - November, 1940

On May 20, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8757 Establishing the Office of Civilian Defense (OCD). Supermen of America advertisements began encouraging readers to buy Savings Bonds and Defense Stamps in Action Comics #43 (December 1941), on sale October 14, 1941. During World War II, membership ads prepared with the Department of War showcased twelve different "Supermen of the U.S. Army" in Action Comics #49–60.

Regional programs were organized throughout the United States in cooperation with OCD and the Department of War. The Superman Junior Defense League of America was promoted by bread bakeries and radio stations that aired The Adventures of Superman. Local sponsors of the Superman Victory Kid Club included Boskman Variety, Village Pharmacy and Fountain, and Wigmore Dairy.

Roberts Dairy of Nebraska released the first set of Superman milk bottle caps for Roberts Superman Defense Club. Roberts later produced a series of twenty "Code Note" caps encrypted for Supermen of America members. Milk cap collecting peaked during the early 1990s with the commercialization of the Hawaiian game commonly known as POGs.

Roberts Superman Defense League - Pledge No. 1Roberts Superman Defense League - Code Note No. 3

Children could join the Supermen of America at select theaters showing the Superman cartoon reels from Fleischer Studios and Paramount Pictures. In 1941, Superman, Inc. offered 500 free memberships and a 40 x 60 inch poster to theater operators in return for running a special Supermen Club Trailer. Theaters could separately purchase 500 memberships for $15, or 3 cents each. The offer was limited to 6,000 setup kits per theater. "Superman's Secret Code" cards produced for the campaign read "Motion Picture Membership" on the title panel. Superman, starring Bud Collyer and Joan Alexander, was released on September 26, 1941,

On January 1, 1944, Jerry Siegel asked DC Comics co-founder Jack Liebowitz to mail 131 Supermen of America membership kits to the U.S. Army 39th Special Service Company in Elkins, West Virginia. Jerry and his fellow soldiers wanted to wear the membership buttons as insignia.

During the winters of 1944 and 1945, Supermen of America offered a free membership kit for joining the March of Dimes against infantile paralysis. Superman would forward the dimes to President Roosevelt in Washington. Registered club members received a color postcard illustrated by Wayne Boring that says "Sincerely, Superman" on the front. A similar campaign distributed March of Dimes postcards for Wonder Woman, as well as Batman and Robin. The Superman and Batman postcards were lettered by Ira Schnapp.

Sincerely, Superman - March of Dimes Postcard, 1944

A precise membership count for the Supermen of America Club is difficult to confirm. The February 27, 1940, issue of Look magazine reported that "fifty-thousand children own certificates." A Paramount advertisement in the April 30, 1941, issue of The Film Daily states that 170,000 children paid to join. In the June 21, 1941, issue of The Saturday Evening Post, John Kobler reported the membership level at "some quarter of a million youngsters." The Campaign Book for Superman released in the fall of 1941 claimed that membership is "rapidly approaching the million mark." A television syndication campaign in the February 20, 1961, issue of Sponsor boasted "millions of paid-up members in the 'Supermen of America' club!"

Different membership materials and premiums were distributed by the Supermen of Canada and the Superman Club of Great Britain. On July 8, 1947, The Argus Superman Club was introduced by The Argus, a newspaper in Melbourne, Australia. For a fee of $2.50 AUD, each member received a certificate, a Superman badge, and a yearly birthday card. The Argus Superman Club became the Young Argus Thousand Eyes Club on May 7, 1954.

Club pinback buttons from 1939–1948 depict a Joe Shuster image of Superman breaking chains from the back cover of Superman #1. Due to the legal battle over Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were removed from story bylines after Action Comics #118, Adventure Comics #126 Superman #51, and World's Finest Comics #33. The buttons were changed to a different illustration that was distributed until 1965. Membership certificates, "Secret Code" cards, and welcome letters continued to use the Joe Shuster image until 1966.

The Supermen of America logo from 1939–1961 is based on the cover of Superman #1 by Joe Shuster and Leo O'Mealia. The telescoping Superman logo was originally designed by Shuster, first appearing in Action Comics #1 (June 1938). Shuster and the Cleveland studio would redraw the Superman logo for each story until Ira Schnapp refined a standard design around June 1940. According to letterer Todd Klein, Schnapp later updated the logo for Supermen of America used from 1961 until 1966.

Supermen of America by Ira Schnapp, 1961-1965

Membership kits mailed from 1961–1966 included a postcard similar to the cover of Superman #53 (July–August 1948), penciled by Wayne Boring and inked by Stan Kaye. The cards measure 5.375 x 7.375 inches and are copyrighted 1948 Nat'l Comics Pub., Inc.

An updated Supermen of America Club membership card, oval iron-on patch, and pinback button were packaged with copies of the Golden Story Teller Superman record released in 1966. The membership card contains a "Kryptonic Code" with a new club code. The LP box set also includes a read-along comic book.

Supermen of America, Golden Story Teller (1966)

A corroded example of the "Supermen of America Member" ring appeared in the March 8, 2010, episode of Pawn Stars "Big Guns." The wooden Superman doll from Ideal appeared in the episode "Fender Bender" on October 29, 2015. The prize ring and premium doll are featured as items in Pawn Stars: The Game released for Android devices in September 2018 by Fifth Column Games. Rick Harrison, owner of Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, and the mobile game incorrectly state that the prize ring is made of steel.

Pawn Stars The Game - Supermen of America Member Ring

Since 1987, the Smithsonian Institution has archived items from the Supermen of America Club. A Superman Krypto-Raygun, an Ideal doll, and additional membership materials are cataloged in the collections of The National Museum of American History.

Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, c. 1940