Posted on Sunday, January 18, 2009, at 4:16 pm, by Cadwalader Crabtree.
President Herbert Hoover was a great believer in individualism and self-reliance, and his approach to the economic downturn, especially at the beginning, was therefore light on government intervention and heavy on encouraging voluntary individual action. His administration, joined by many prominent business leaders and opinion-makers, tried bravely to talk up the economy. The cartoons in Life adopted an ironic tone toward such efforts, which were clearly inadequate to the task at hand.
C. W. Anderson’s “I see by the papers,” published on January 3, 1930, is a good early example.
The same artist’s “Step up and buy,” which appeared on July 11, 1930, lampoons the notion of ordinary citizens successfully taking personal responsibility for the American economy.
In this cartoon from August 22, 1930, William Kemp Starrett has other targets as well, but the administration’s empty efforts to stimulate consumption are definitely coming in for a poke.
This cartoon from October 17, 1930, takes another shot at the rhetorical approach to fixing the economy. The rural setting is noteworthy, for while the agricultural sector had already fallen on hard times well before the Wall Street crash, the cartoonists of New York-based Life generally kept their focus on urban America.
On January 9, 1931, G. B. Inwood contributed perhaps the sharpest jab on this particular theme . . .
. . . while the artist of this cartoon took a more lighthearted (if predictably sexist) view.
John Cassel’s “The Way to Prosperity,” from October 30, 1931, tartly comments on the hollowly optimistic and sometimes contradictory advice issuing from on high.
All of the cartoons, however, are rather oblique in their criticism of government policy, for Life tended to steer clear of partisan politics. “Speaking of unemployment,” Kemp Starrett’s denunciation of congressional inaction (published on September 12, 1930) seems to have been about as overtly political as the magazine was prepared to get at this time.
Kemp Starrett’s cartoon from October 17, 1930, concerning Hoover’s annual Thanksgiving Proclamation, is hardly unsympathetic to the president’s predicament. George Akerson was Hoover’s press secretary.
A year later, on November 13, 1931, Gardner Rea was willing to be a little more pointed on the same subject.
In our next installment, Life confronts unemployment and misery!
Lil Escalera wrote on January 25, 2012, at 3:08 pm:
This is an incredible blog and website thank you! I have a question on John Cassel's "The Way to Prosperity," from October 30, 1931. Where was it published. I would love to use this political cartoon for a paper I am writing.
Thank you very much for your time and help,
Editorial note: All the cartoons in this series came from Life magazine.