Political cartoons from the last 100 years
Cartoons have long caught the public’s attention, featuring social or political overtones, and intending to highlight a pressing issue. The nature of these cartoons has changed over the centuries, accommodating a widespread appetite for vitriolic humor or even propaganda. In the case of Martin Luther’s pamphlet “Passional Christi und Antichristi,” drawn by Lucas Cranach the Elder, the issue was the opposition to the Roman Catholic church in 16th-century Germany. Cartoons have since evolved to caricatural, abstract, punchline-based, and many other styles.
In America’s first-ever cartoon in 1754, “ Join or Die,” Benjamin Franklin called for the unity of the 13 colonies. Even though Franklin’s cartoon did not fulfill its intended purpose, it was reused by colonists protesting British rule.
The word itself comes from the Italian word cartone, referring to a kind of cardboard used in the 17th century to transfer images onto fresco or a wall. And though political cartoons continue to represent social and political reform, they continue to evolve in a way that accentuates the artists’ talent and wit. They’re integral to news and media outlets worldwide and have been a necessary catalyst to change and political dialogue.
Stacker went through the Library of Congress, newspapers, magazine archives, and art and photo libraries to find the most compelling 100 political cartoons over the last 100 years.
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1911: 'What Everybody Knows'
In "What everybody knows," artist Udo J. Keppler draws Uncle Sam surrounded by men bemoaning the woes of the United States. At the time, the death rate from cirrhosis was nearly 30 per 100,000 men. This rate dropped to about 11 per 100,000 by 1929, when Prohibition had been in effect for nearly a decade.
[Pictured: “What everybody knows” by Udo J. Keppler for Puck Magazine dated Jan. 25, 1911.]
1912: 'Next From Cradle to the Mill'
“Next From Cradle to the Mill” is a brutal portrayal of child labor early in the 20th century. A monsterous figure with “Necessity” written on it takes a child by the hand menacingly. In the background, a man’s head is down on a desk, while two children walk toward a factory that says “Machinery Operated by Children.” The cartoon brings to mind the public hearing of Camilla Teoli, who worked as a child at a wool factory and experienced a disfiguring accident.
[Pictured: “Next! From Cradle to the Mill” by Art Young for Puck Magazine dated April 1912.]
1916: 'The Americanese Wall, As Congressman Burnett Would Build It'
“The Americanese Wall, As Congressman Burnett Would Build It” satirizes the 1917 immigration act imposed by Congressman John Lawson Burnett by drawing literacy tests as a wall. Evans drew the wall with pens sticking out of it, while Uncle Sam looks on.
[Pictured: “The Americanese Wall, As Congressman Burnett Would Build It” by Raymond O. Evans for Puck Magazine.]
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1917: 'Not All the Tanks Are in Europe'
“Not All the Tanks Are in Europe” shows how a law enforcer is alone in fighting crime and corruption, symbolized by an army tank on the streets of Chicago. At the time, it was common practice for politicians to be in alliance with criminals in Chicago. At times, these politicians protected Chicago’s mob bosses and outlaws.
[Pictured: “Not all the Tanks are in Europe” by Luther Daniels Bradley.]
1917: 'Perhaps They Would Like It for a Figurehead?'
In “Perhaps They Would Like It for a Figurehead,” Luther Daniels Bradley mocks America’s lack of action in World War I by replacing the famous American eagle. Three pacifists can be seen in the cartoon removing the eagle with a sign that says “The Dodo Doesn’t Work.”
[Pictured: “Perhaps they would like it for a figurehead?” by Luther Daniels Bradley.]
1920: 'Christmas of What Year?'
When World War I began in 1914, it was common to say it would be over by Christmas. Homer Stinson’s 1920 cartoon mocks that sentiment: his illustration came three years after the end of the war, following the Senate’s refusal to ratify the Treaty of Versailles. President Harding brought home U.S. troops stationed in Germany in 1923.
[Pictured: "Christmas of what year?” by Homer Stinson for Dayton Daily News dated May 15, 1920.]
1920: 'The Accuser'
“The Accuser” shows a woman reprimanding the U.S. Senate for killing what’s lying on the ground: “ The treaty of peace.” This referred to the Treaty of Versailles, which brought to an end to the war between the Allied Powers and Germany.
[Pictured: “The Accuser” by Rollin Kirby for New York World dated March 20, 1920.]
1920: 'Go Away!'
In “Go Away!” Rollin Kirby drew Congress from behind doors gesturing to Armenia with a sign that says “With malice towards all, with charity towards none.” This cartoon represents America’s non-recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
[Pictured: “Go Away!” by Rollin Kirby for New York World dated June 12, 1920.]
1921: 'The Only Way to Handle It'
This cartoon shows America’s reluctance at the time to take in refugees. “The Only Way to Handle It” portrays Uncle Sam using a funnel to let in refugees, with an influx from the top.
[Pictured: “The Only Way to Handle It” by Hallahan for Providence Evening Bulletin dated May 7, 1921.]
1920: 'Why They Hate Each Other'
Burt Thomas drew the GOP and the Democrats wearing matching hats and toting the same issues, with a citizen watching on. The cartoon mocks the striking similarities between the two parties.
[Pictured: “Why They Hate Each Other” by Burt Thomas for The Detroit News dated March 6, 1920.]
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