I came across this word reading Robert Caro’s The Passage of Power. Volume four in his ridiculously thorough but amazing biography of Lyndon B. Johnson.  He refers to a speech Johnson gave as a stemwinder.

The phrase originates from the name for a keyless watch, an invention from around 1875.  Because these watches were so superior to their key-dependent brethren, any thing or person that was first-rate or energetic could be called a stemwinder.  Sometime in the 1940s in political lingo, the phrase became particularly associated with rousing speeches and speech makers.  A person or a speech could be a real stemwinder.


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