Golden Age Editorial Cartoons

The soul of editorial cartoons is their use of drawing to illustrate a political point of view, comment on current events or conditions. They use caricature, cartoon characters,and satire to accomplish their purpose.

Drawings have been used to communicate ideas as long as humans have existed. Drawings that rely on stinging wit and ridicule have been around that long as well.

They have been featured in newspapers and magazines ever since the printing press was developed, and in books even longer.

Woodcut of Join or Die cartoon, 1754

Probably the first effective political cartoon in America was Benjamin Franklin's woodcut of a divided snake created in 1754. It became a widely distributed symbol of the need for colonial unity in dealing with the Iroquois nation during the French and Indian War.

Based in part on the cartoon's success in conveying an idea, the American rattlesnake became a symbol of the need for American unity during the Revolutionary War.

Golden Age illustrators were quick to pick up the pen and create political humor. During the Civil War cartoons with political and social bite became a quick way to illustrate through popular symbols complex ideas and events.

While newspapers and popular magazines such as Harper's Weekly usually carried a few political cartoons, humor magazines featured gags and puns as well as political and social satire. By 1880 the illustrated humor magazine Puck regularly carried political cartoons including full-color, full-page lithographs.

Political cartoons in America's newspapers remained popular throughout the twentieth century. Since 1922 the annual Pulitzer journalism awards have included a prize for editorial cartooning based on originality, pictorial effectiveness, and drawing quality.

Below are a few examples from the Golden Age of Illustration (More coming soon!).

Right: "The Village School Board," 1900, by Zim.

Right: "Mr. Hardheart," by Charles E. Brock, 1907.

Right: "The Sands Running Out," a comment on the decline of Russian prestige under Czar Nicholas II, 1905, by Bernard Partridge of Punch.

Find more cartoons on these pages:

Comic Art: sight gags, puns, and comic strips.

Caricatures: famous people and stereotypes.

Cartoon characters: stories and children's books.

Check the Cartoonists Page to find more examples of:
editorial cartoons.

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