Although the initials O.K. are now known and used around the world and have been in common American usage for a hundred years, the source was a matter of great disputation through most of that period.
Some attributed it to illiteracy displayed by Andrew Jackson, who, they said, wrote O.K. as the initials of “Oll Korrect.”
Others thought the source was a misreading of the initials O.R., “Order Recorded,” indicating official approval of a document. And some believed that the initials were an erroneous rendering of the Choctaw okeh, “it is so.”
All dispute ceased in 1941.
In that year, in the July 19 issue of the Saturday Review of Literature, in an eight-page article, “The Evidence on O.K.,” Allen Walker Read laid the ghost for all time.
By dint of much research he traced the initials back to 1840, finding the first appearance in print in the New York New Era of March 23.
The reference was to a political organization supporting the candidacy of Martin Van Buren for a second term in the White House.
The members called themselves the Democratic O.K. Club, taking the initials from Old Kinderhook, a title bestowed upon Van Buren from the name of the village, Kinderhook, in the valley of the Hudson where he was born.
The mystifying initials, as a sort of rallying cry, caught the fancy of other supporters immediately, and were used, according to the New York Herald of March 28, by these supporters in a raid upon a meeting of the Whigs the previous evening.
“About 500 stout, strapping men,” the paper reported, “marched three and three, noiselessly and orderly. The word O.K. was passed from mouth to mouth, a cheer was given, and they rushed into the hall upstairs, like a torrent.”