Nast, Thomas

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Artists

Thomas Nast is considered the first important American cartoonist. Symbols created by him are still popular today. These include Uncle Sam, the Democratic donkey, the Republican elephant, and Santa Claus.

Nast was born on September 27, 1840, in Landau, Germany. He attended the National Academy of Design after moving with his family to New York City. As a teenager, Nast worked as an artist for Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. (Before the rise of photojournalism, drawing pictures to accompany newspaper stories was an important job.) From 1858 to 1861, Nast contributed sketches to the New York Illustrated News and several other newspapers.

In 1862, Nast took a job with Harper's Weekly. There he began to develop modern political cartoons. Political cartoons are pictures with captions that sway public opinion. His influential Civil War cartoons, "After the Battle" and "Emancipation," led President Abraham Lincoln to call him "our best recruiting sergeant."

Nast gained national fame for his assaults against political injustice. Between 1869 and 1871, he used a tiger as the symbol for Tammany Hall, a corrupt New York political organization. His cartoons attacking Tammany Hall led to the eventual imprisonment of its leader, William "Boss" Tweed. During the presidential campaign of 1874, Nast popularized the elephant and the donkey as symbols of Republican and Democratic parties.

Nast died on December 7, 1902, while serving as U.S. consul at Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Reviewed by Judith D. Hines
Education Manager, The Newseum

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