During the mid 1990’s, it was common to see a person wearing a brightly colored bracelet with the enigmatic “WWJD” letters on it. To those in the know, these four letters posed a question that would lead the person to a calculated moral decision. What would Jesus do?
Janie Tinklenberg creates the What Would Jesus Do (WWJD) Bracelets
In 1896, Topeka Kansas minister Charles Sheldon, wrote a book titled In His Steps, What Would Jesus Do? The ethos of Sheldon’s approach to the Christian life was expressed in this phrase “What Would Jesus Do”, with Jesus being a moral example rather than a Savoir figure. 100 years later, in Holland, Michigan, Janie Tinklenberg recalled the book which had been a favorite with her family. It was 1989 when friendship bracelets and wait-until-marriage rings were becoming popular. Tinklenberg pondered the question, might she and he be able to come up with a reminder to Christians that would act as a prompt to remind them to lead the good life?
As Tinklenberg recalled,
“We looked at T-shirts and hats. But this was the time when kids were making braid friendship bracelets with colored thread. So bracelets it had to be. And we just used the abbreviation because kids wouldn’t have time to read the four words and they wouldn’t fit on the bracelet.”
Thus started a grassroots campaign that grew beyond Tinklengberg’s wildest imagination.
The Making of the WWJD Bracelets
Tinklenberg asked a friend to make a few hundred of the bracelets to give away to children in the church she attended. The children were given the bracelet and in return, committed to wearing the bracelet for 30 days to remind them of their commitment to God and good behavior that every Christian strove to uphold. She noticed that the children kept coming back and asking for more because a friend or relative wanted one of their own. She began handing them out two at a time ““ one for the child to keep, and a second one for the child to give away.
“What would happen is that an aunt or uncle or neighbor would then come along and say, ‘That’s a really cool idea, where can I get those things?’ and they would call me, and I would call the folks who manufacture them and we’d start getting those bracelets out. And it was just word of mouth after that.”
Demand for WWJD Bracelets Explodes
The demand for the bracelets exploded when one day, the manufacturer sent samples of the bracelets to a Christian bookshop convention. They were an instant hit. Soon, word had spread across the United States. Demand surged further when Paul Harvey mentioned the bracelets on his syndicated radio broadcast every day for a week during the spring of 1997. From a few hundred bracelets a week, the factory was churning out 20,000 a week by 1997. America was hooked. The bracelets had moved into the very mainstream of secular life – into politics, and sport. Baseball, gridiron football and basketball players made sure they were never without their faithful reminders on their wrists. Americans without the remotest interest in religion enjoyed the enigmatic charm of those four mysterious letters.
Tinklenberg is the registered trademark holder of the WWJD bracelet – in theory the only person allowed to market them. But she has had nothing to do with the product since the early days. In practice, she says, she would never go to law to prevent someone else using the letters for their private gain. “All the money that was made from it was made by other people. I have never made a penny.”
Estimates about how many bracelets were sold in the United States during the 1990’s range from 15 million to 52 million.