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Political Cartoons from the Early 20th Century: Not Much Has Changed

Posted by Laurie Frost on February 22, 2011

Today’s post features political cartoons from over a hundred years ago published in the magazine Puck, a periodical featuring commentary and satire that was published between 1871 and 1918. The Library of Congress has completed digitization of 585 cartoons from the covers and centerfold pages of Puck for the years 1890-1910, and more of these public domain images will be added later.

The meaning of some of the political cartoons depends on a thorough familiarity with political life at the turn of the 20th century, but what is surprising is how many of these seem altogether relevant to 2011 — all that have changed are a few names and places. Descriptions are from the Library of Congress’s cataloging notes.

The Law-mills Again at Work. Illustration shows “Justice” holding her scales, being buried under an avalanche of paper labeled “Law” as a “Legislator” at the top turns the crank spewing legislation from the U.S. Capitol. Jan. 10, 1900. Illus. Udo Keppler. LC-DIG-ppmsca-25384

The Age of Drugs: Illustration shows the interior of a drugstore with an elderly man, the pharmacist, dispensing a "Bracer" to a crowd of eager consumers, while a young girl secures a bottle of "Soothing Syrup." On the counter are bottles and packets of "Arsenic, Strychnine, Antipyrin, Nerve Stimulant, Opium, Cocaine" and "The Needle." Signs on the wall state "The Killem' Quick Pharmacy," "Open all night," and "Prescriptions carefully compounded." The saloon keeper leans against a column and laments that he cannot "begin to compete with" the drug trade." illus. Louis Dalrymple. Oct. 1900. LC-DIG-ppmsca-25463

The Crabbed Millionaire's Puzzle. Illustration shows an old man labeled "Millionaire" sitting in a chair atop a pile of moneybags, bemoaning the fact that he now has little time to give away his money in a satisfactory manner; on the left are the church and the university looking for contributions and on the right are the hated "Relatives" looking to inherit new found wealth. illus. J.S. Pughe. Aug. 1901. LC-DIG-ppmsca-25553

Milking Time. Illustration shows Thomas Taggart, Democratic National Committee chairman, on the left, and George B. Cortelyou, Republican National Committee chairman, on the right, milking a cow into buckets labeled "Dem. Campaign Fund" and "Rep. Campaign Fund". A bell labeled "Wall Street" hangs from a ribbon labeled "Trust Interests" around the cows neck. illus. Keppler. 1904. LC-DIG-ppmsca-25875

The Benodellocinch. Illustration shows Benjamin B. Odell with two heads as he acts in the capacity of "Governor" of New York and as "Chairman Rep. State Com." with the governor side wielding a quill pen labeled "Veto Power" over papers labeled "Legislative favors" and the chairman side holding out a tin cup labeled "Campaign Contributions". illus. Udo Keppler. 1904. LC-DIG-ppmsca-25839

As to the Many Theatrical Failures, Business Will Pick Up When... . Illustration shows a vignette cartoon with, at center, the construction of mannequin models as stand-ins for actors, surrounded by scenes of price gouging, poorly attended performances, the use of wooden actors, indifference to customers and haughty attitudes by theater staff, and the resulting failure of business. Above the main scene are the ghosts of past actors labeled "Booth, Gilbert, Forrest, Cushman, Wallack". illus. S.D. Ehrhart. 1903. LC-DIG-ppmsca-25805

A Revelation in Revolutions. Caption: Uncle Sam: "Well! Well! You boys have at last had a revolution which will help the whole world." Illustration shows Uncle Sam with a bundle of papers labeled "Canal Plans" patting a diminutive man, wearing a hat labeled "Panama", on the shoulder. The man smiles broadly and is leaning on a large sword. Canal construction equipment is just offshore, in the background. illus. Udo Keppler. 1903. LC-DIG-ppmsca-25798

Due Process of Law. Illustration shows Justice, wearing a crown labeled "Law" and carrying a sword and scales, riding on the back of a snail, climbing a steep hill strewn with bolders labeled "Certificate of reasonable doubt, Appeals, Change of venue, Injunction, Stays" toward the "Hall of Justice" at the top of the hill. illus. Ehrhart. 1903. LC-DIG-ppmsca-25806

You can fool some of the people all of the time. Illustration shows a vignette cartoon with John A. Dowie as a wizard at center offering salvation and other products to gullible customers. The surrounding vignettes show various types of "people", such as "The working people", downtrodden and depressed, who are tricked into following the "Walking Delegate", his pockets overflowing with money, and "The get-rich-quick people" who anxiously purchase bogus stocks and securities. There are those who have their palms read and those who believe they can build their own homes, as well as those who show off their castles with a huge "Mortage". illus. Ehrhart. 1903. LC-DIG-ppmsca-25786

One Response to “Political Cartoons from the Early 20th Century: Not Much Has Changed”

  1. John Olsen said

    This entry is right on the money when it states that changing a few names and places is all that is needed to make these cartoons relevant today. I think this would be a very effective daily or weekly blog posting political cartoons from 100 years ago that show that some issues seem to never change.

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