History Beyond the Pages: Political Cartoons

on Thursday, 05 November 2015. Posted in History Beyond the Pages, TLC Blog

The First Installment

By Katie Givens

Foreword by Kara Brehm


Welcome to the first post of our newest blog series: History Beyond the Pages.  Before we begin I would like to give you an introduction to our newspaper digitization project at the Cape May County Library System.  Cape May County has a rich history that has been thoroughly documented through the various township newspapers since the late 1800s.  As a preservation effort for aging newspapers many years ago the collection was put on to microfilm and until recently the only way to access these newspapers at the CMCL was through a microfilm machine. 

In 2014 we began a digitization project to take our local newspapers on microfilm and make them available online for free.  Newspapers published prior to 1923 are no longer until author copyright and we began digitizing those.  We later obtained permission from some of the local newspaper publishers to include editions from 1924 to current.  We run this effort primarily on a volunteer basis.

With this project not only would our patrons be able to view the newspapers, they would be keyword searchable to assist with finding the desired information, persons, and dates more quickly.  We also discovered that through our scanning of the microfilm that there is a great deal of interesting history that occurred in Cape May County that we could highlight in our blog.  This series is designed to bring to light some of the lesser-known or long forgotten stories in Cape May County.

If you would like more information including the newspapers, volunteering, or general questions about our digitization project, please contact Kara Brehm at the Technology Learning Center at the Cape May Court House Library.  Check out what we currently have digitized at http://vdls.cmclibrary.org.  

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy History Beyond the Pages!

Technology and Digital Archives Librarian


Political Cartoons

With Election Day come and gone, it seems appropriate to launch this “History Beyond the Pages” blog series with commentary on political cartoons. Working on the archival project at the Cape May County Library, I’ve come across many in our microfilm collection. Some were rather tame. Some were genius. And, honestly, some were downright odd. However, let me give a general overview of the art form and their connection with the United States, before delving into a few of my favorites from the library’s archives.

Political cartoons are intertwined within American history. Political cartoons are an illustrated commentary on current events and peoples. Trademarks of the art form are exaggerations and satire.

Although the art developed within England in the eighteenth century, such as through social caricaturist William Hogarth, the practice has been used since the start of our country. One infamous political cartoon is Benjamin Franklin’s “Join, or Die” caricature, published in the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1754, which is a recognizable part of our country’s early history.


Join or Die

Benjamin Franklin’s “Join, or Die” caricature, which took on

many different meanings throughout the lead up to the American Revolution.

During the Civil War, political cartoons saw their height. Artists, such as Thomas Nast, known as “The Father of the American Cartoon,” refined the art form into what we know of it today. Nast, for example, is responsible for the creation of Uncle Sam, the Republican elephant, and the Democrat’s donkey.

Uncle Sam TNast

Uncle Sam depicted in a cartoon by Thomas Nast.

Political cartoons continue to thrive within American culture, but its heyday is long past. Today, publishers decide whether or not keeping controversial voices conflict with their business agendas. Therefore, we often see more “tame” art within the mainstream media.

modern toon

Modern example of the political cartoon.

Many of the political cartoons I’ve come across many political cartoons from the so-called heyday. Most I discovered from within the Cape May Herald with publication years falling within the 1903-1907 range. Take a look!

05301907 CMHerald

Cartoon from the May 30, 1907 edition of the Cape May Herald.

During a time when national labor unions were being structured, the rights of the worker were being heavily debated. The above cartoon, taken from the May 30, 1907 edition of the Cape May Herald, shows what appears to be a laborer balancing the “Increase in the cost of necessities” with the “Increase in Wages.” Judging from where the scales are tipping, the “Increase in the cost of necessities” outweighs the “Increase in Wages.” Even in today’s America, this struggle remains true for many.


Cartoon from the November 3, 1904 edition of the Cape May Herald.

Above is a political cartoon dating from November 3, 1904. Depicted is Charles C. Black, who was the Democratic nominee for the Governor of New Jersey in the 1904 election. The cartoon depicts Black as a mask for the Democrats, offering promises of “equal taxation,” but behind the guise we see faults within the party. A few listed in the cartoon are ballot box frauds, race track legislation, and state house scandal. Charles C. Black lost against his Republican opponent, Edward C. Stokes, by approximately 50,000 votes.

04191906 CMHerald

Cartoon from the April 19, 1906 edition of the Cape May Herald.

Baseball was a popular pastime in the beginning of the twentieth century. The World Series was founded in 1903 as part of an agreement between the National League and American League, two separate baseball organizations. The creation of the baseball championship, pitting these two organizations against the other, benefitted in popularity with fans. Also prominent in this period were strikes by unions. Within the political cartoon above, we see Uncle Sam watching a baseball player strike out. According to Uncle Sam, epitomized by the Thomas Nast, the only strike he wants to see are baseball strikes, not union strikes by workers seeking more rights from their employers.

Sifting through the newspapers on microfilm, I noticed a common theme in the political cartoons. Class struggle, deceiving politicians, rivaling political parties, and the quest for the American dream. One hundred years later, these issues continue to exist in politics. It remains apparent in our political cartoons of today, and the political cartoons of the past. An interesting thought to dwell on.

Until next time,



Links of interest:

Political Cartoons – History Detectives – PBS

Biography.com – Thomas Nast

History Channel – Labor Movement

Stockton University – Labor Strikes of the 1900s

Article on Charles C. Black in the New York Times

Baseball History in the 1900s: Birth of the Modern Age

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