Until William Jennings Bryan’s 1896 campaign against William McKinley, presidential candidates seldom left home in search of votes. Stumping was left to surrogates. Although Bryan lost (and then lost and lost again), his willingness to hit the trail changed American politics forever.
This passage from American Heritage magazine (April/May 1980) suggests that Marion Butler, the North Carolina Populist leader, helped to establish another campaign precedent:
“Butler, who accompanied Bryan during part of his Southern tour, was appalled at his absorption in such trivia as checking train schedules, buying tickets and arranging for baggage and mail. Bryan rose in the middle of the night to make train changes and connections, toting his own heavy grips. At Butler’s recommendation, the national committee provided Bryan with a special car, known inappropriately as ‘The Idler,’ in which the press and local committees could travel comfortably along with the candidate.”