1840 to 1902, born in Germany, immigrated to America, staying In New York City, with his parents, Thomas Nast is considerd the father of American political cartooning.
"Nast’s legacy to future generations includes the symbols he made popular that are still recognized today: Uncle Sam, the Democratic donkey, the Republican elephant, and Santa Claus. When Santa Claus appears each year, American children would label him an imposter if he did not look like the Santa Claus portrayed in Nast’s Christmas drawings." - Lynda Pflueger
Before I read Thomas Nast Political Cartoonist by Lynda Pflueger at the very most I would perhaps recognized him as the creator of the post famous political cartoon in American history.
Pflueger starts her very well written biography with an account of the arrival of the Nast family in New York City. Nast was six at the time. Pflueger tells us about the times of the family getting settled in a new country. Nast attended public school from six to fourteen, he never did very well in school, being mainly interested in pursuing a career as an artist.
In 1854 he left public school and began two years of art instruction. He got a job as a draftsman in 1856 and sold his first drawing to Harper's Weekly in 1859. He, as Pflueger details,was to have a long and mutually benifical relationship with the four Harper brothers. He began to regularly publish drawings in Harper's Weekly, many of them harshly critical of the very corrupt New York City political organization known as Tammany Hall, dominated by William "Boss" Tweed. I as fascinated to read about his time as a war correspondent in Italy. In a time where photography was just starting, and lots of potential voters are either barely literate or speak a language besides English, detailed vivid drawings like those of Nast were the viral media of the 1870s.
At the time venal politicians were exploting anti-immigrant sentiment among segments of the American population, sounds a bit familiar. The biggest fear seems to have been that of Chinese railroad laborers who stsyed in the country after the railroads were completed. Nast, an immigrant, was strongly pro immigrant. I loved Nast's cartoon making fun of politicians who proposed building a wall to keep out immigrants.
As Nast's cartoons began to increase demands for reform in NYC he was offered large bribes to stop publishing his drawings. To his great credit he refused. Nast was pro-Catholic and anti-slavry. He might have been predjudiced against the Irish. Where your ancestors were from was a very big matter in NYC at the time.
Pflueger does a very good job explaining how politics worked at the time. I also learned a lot about the magazine business and the economics of being a cartoonist. Sometimes Nast was very affluent, sometimes he had to scramble to feed his wife and five kids. Nast published drawings not just on political corruption but on slavery and injustice of different sorts. Nast comes across to me as a very good man, proud of his work but able to look at himself with a wry eye.
One of his covers for Harper's Weekly
Nast was a character artist, he exaggerates characteristics to make his points, he relied on stereotyped features to make his drawings vivid.
Thomas Nash Political Cartoonist, a young adult biography, taught me a lot about American history. I never knew how important cartoons were.
Readable in under two hours, I really enjoyed this book and recommend it to readers at all levels interested in American history. The concerns of Nast are the concerns of America today. I would love to see his cartoons on Trump and his wall!
If I had a wish for the book,i would like to see included a chart converting USA money in the time of Nast's life to current money. When Pflueger tells us, for example, that Nash was paid forty dollars a week when he started at Harper's I need a frame of reference for this.
On the author's very well done webpage you can learn about how she came to write this book and her other works and interests.
Glad that you found this biography such a worthwhile read. I remember, as a child, being so terrifically puzzled by political cartoonists: they simply were not funny. (To the younger-me.)
Mel, thanks for a very interesting post about Thomas Nash, political cartoonists, complete with cartoons. Cartoons and politics still go hand in hand, it seems.
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