Thomas Nast was unquestionably the most influential political cartoonist in American history. He is credited with inventing the symbols of both the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey. Even the appearance of Santa Claus owes a great deal to his artwork. Most people remember Nast as the man who attacked William Marcy "Boss" Tweed and his ring of croneys at Tammany Hall in New York City around 1870. What they are more likely to forget is that Nast was born in Germany and got his start drawing pictures for Harper's Weekly during the Civil War.
- Pre-war Career
- Born in an army barracks in Landau, der Pfalz, September 27, 1840
- Brought to US by mother in 1846
- Educated in New York City, at the same grade school that was attended by William Marcy Tweed
- Was not a good student. Only interested in art. One teacher told him, "Go finish your picture. You will never learn to read or figure."
- Studied art with Theodore Kaufman at the National Academy of Design
- Quit school in 1855.
- Took job at Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper as a draftsman in 1855. Received additional training in art.
- Started contributing satirical drawings to Harper's Weekly in 1859
- In 1860, sent to England by New York's Illustrated News. Also sent to Italy by the Illustrated London News and other papers to cover the actions of the Italian nationalist, Giuseppe Garibaldi
- Civil War Career
- Returned to U.S> in 1862. Joined Harper's Weekly as a staff cartoonist
- Sent by Harper's to cover the war.
- Cartoons made in this period were important in making Nast famous.
- Portrayed Northerners as kind, gentle men in the middle of a war they never wanted and Southerners as cruel and brutal.
- Lincoln was supposed to have once called him "the Union's best recruiting sergeant."
- Post War Fame
- Best known for his attacks on William Marcy "Boss" Tweed from 1869 to 1871. Tweed and his men at Tammany Hall controlled New York City's government. Tweed had an established image as a great, kind, and charitable man, but Nast drew him as a scoundrel and a thief. In 1871, when Tweed saw Nast's cartoon, "Who Stole the People's Money? 'Twas Him'", he exclaimed, "Let's stop them damn pictures! I don't care so much what the papers say about me- my constituents can;t read; but damn it, they can see pictures!" Nast's cartoons are credited with getting Tweed outsted from office, and also with his ultimate arrest. In 1876, authorities in Virgo, Spain, recognized Tweed by one of Nast's pictures and arrested him.
- During the 1872 presidential election, Nast's attacks on candidate Hoarce Greely were relentless. Ulysses S. Grant himself said, "Two things elected meL The sword of Sheridan and the pencil of Nast."
- Credited with inventing the symbols of the Democratic donkey, the Republican elephant, and the Tammany Tiger
- His illustrations are also credited with giving Santa Claus much of his current appearance.
- Helped to modernize the political cartoon by taking away unnecessary details, and shortening the captions, thus making them more forceful.
- Was mainly a Republican in his views, but was briefly a Mugwump because of his advocacy of civil service reform, and in 1884 was a Democrat. In 1892, became a Republican again.
- In 1884, lost all his money because of bad investments. Had to struggle to make a living.
- New techniques in art reproduction made Nast's woodplate style obsolete.
- Quit Harper's Weekly in 1887 because of differences with teh editor.
- Was an excellent draftsman and designer. Illustrated a number of books and did some oil paintings.
- Published Nast's Weekly between 1892 and 1893. Also published Nast's Almanac for several years.
- Theodore Roosevelt appointed him to by U.S. consul general at Guayaquil, Ecuador in 1902.
- Died December 7, 1902 in Ecuador of either yellow fever or malaria.