Jacquelyn Ottman. Chromolithograph. Puck. May 11, 1887.
In this cartoon, the illustrator represents the toil of the farmers at the hands, or more appropriately, foot of the railroad industry during the Gilded Age. By abusing monopolistic power, Cornelius Vanderbilt, the monopolist in control of the railroad industry, forced upon settlers unfair rates and fares as well as preferred customer policies to maximize his own profit. These corrupt policies brought about a slew of problems for settlers who relied on the railroad as a form of transportation. In desperation, such settlers, represented in the cartoon, beckon the government for help.
Government help came from the “Hand of Cleveland.” His hand, which grabs Vanderbilt’s collar but fails to prevent Vanderbilt’s foot from stomping on the settlers suggests that Cleveland can only make an empty threat. This minimal help failed to enact any change but instead led to what the cartoon describes as “A Stay of Proceedings,” where the government and the monopolies remained at a standstill while the settlers continued to suffer. The theme of corruption and the Vanderbilt family is also explored in the cartoon in this exhibit titled, Our Merciless Millionaire.
Frederick Opper. Chromolithograph. Puck. October 29, 1884.
This caricature shows railroad industrialist William Henry Vanderbilt donating money to fund the construction of the medical college of Columbia University in New York City. Although philanthropy is usually positive, Puck implies that Vanderbilt's action will have negative consequences for the American people by linking Vanderbilt's famous exclamation, "The public be damned!" to the caption "The Public be--Doctored!" This offers an indictment of the changing American medical system of the period, which saw the development of medicine, specifically doctors, as self-interested political entities.
The idea of corruption is portrayed by the doctors gleefully waving menacing surgical instruments, the cheering undertaker outside the offices of “Crape and Plantem” Undertakers, and the shadowy personification of Death in the bottom left, accepting money to fund his operations. By contributing to those who profit from death—the doctors and undertakers, according to the caricaturist, Opper—Vanderbilt seems to be actively ensuring the public's damnation, earning the label of "Merciless" that Puck bestows upon him in the title. The Vanderbilt family was seen as the prototype of the robber baron elitists who pursued their own selfish interests without regard for the public, as is also reflected in A Stay of Proceedings.
George Cruickshank and William Hone. Woodblock engraving. 1820.
William Hone’s Non mi Ricordo! ridicules King George IV and his attempt to divorce his wife, Queen Caroline, through a public trial held in Parliament. Like the caricature Narcissus (left), this piece was one of many that, aside from helping acquit the Queen, riled the masses against a corrupt, unbecoming government figure. The King bribed witnesses to charge his wife with adultery while she was abroad. One witness in particular, the Queen’s Italian servant Majocchi, gave a first-hand account of one of Her Majesty’s supposed affairs. In cross-examination, however, Majocchi’s claims fell apart to the point that he resorted to saying “Non mi ricordo!,” which is Italian for “I don’t remember!”
Hone held a poor opinion of the King, who was broadly criticized both for requesting this ridiculous trial, and for his alleged adultery and profligacy. He thus fused George IV’s character flaws and Majocchi’s failure in court into a radical satire against the King and his regime. For instance, the image of the King here replaces Majocchi behind the witness stand. The extravagant outfit and recognizable features make him easily identifiable, but his plump appearance and distorted face make him unattractive to the public. His use of the line “Non mi Ricordo!” to answer a simple “who are you?” makes the King a man easily ridiculed, as Majocchi was during trial.
Bernhard Gillam. Chromolithograph. Puck. September 17, 1884.
Months after the 1884 presidential election, Grover Cleveland attributed his victory over Republican James Blaine to the public outcry stirred by Bernhard Gillam’s Tattooed Man caricatures (just as the acquittal of Great Britain’s Queen Caroline in 1820 has been attributed to William Hone’s caricatures [see right]). In the 22-part series published in Puck throughout 1884, Gillam inscribes Blaine’s skin with keywords that refer to the controversial scandals and offensive remarks from his storied political past, transforming him into the freak-show exhibit, the Tattooed Man.
Gillam portrays Blaine as Narcissus, a mythological Greek cursed to be so spellbound by his reflection that he dies of starvation staring into a pool. However, in Gillam’s rendition, Blaine is not only mesmerized by himself but is also blind to his Cain-esque tattoos. In this caricature Gillam, a Republican himself, challenges Blaine to recognize the public’s negative opinion of him, not the doting perspectives of his followers, NY Tribune editor Whitelaw Reed and vice-presidential candidate John Logan (pictured here as sunflowers that follow Blaine instead of the sun). Only then can Blaine repair his image and prevent the death of his presidential ambitions, as alluded to in the tombstones pictured in the corner of the caricature.
John S. Pughe. Chromolithograph. Puck. November 1, 1899.
This image, published in 1899 in the satirical American magazine Puck, displays an American view of Cuban society collapsing without American aid, industry and intervention. In the cartoon, an allegorical figure of Cuba begs a well-dressed Uncle Sam for help in preventing further social and political disasters such as the ones which plagued Cuba before and after the Spanish-American War. This work represents a clearly American perspective on the issues affecting Cuba at the time as well as a sense of American power, prosperity, and ability to influence and change events and cultures around the world for the better.
This cartoon, which differs vastly in size, medium and material from the other cartoons of this artist, was not intended to draw a laugh from the audience, but rather to show a sense of American pride while providing a brightly colored decorative work for the wall of a home.
In this spirit the work is not focused on historical accuracy. For instance, the allegorical figure of Cuba is wearing a costume typical of Mayan, rather than Cuban, culture which suggests that the artist recycled hispanic stereotypes.
Joseph Keppler. Chromolithograph. Puck. June 9, 1880.
Joseph Keppler’s 1880 caricature Legalized Plunderers criticizes corruption in the legal system during the Gilded Age. During this period, businessmen worked with lawyers in crooked methods to evade litigation which then allowed them to continue to steal money and exploit the system. Heads of businesses bribed lawyers to turn a blind eye on the reallocation of money into their pockets instead of their workers’. As a supporter of the working-class, Keppler condemns lawyers for manipulating the law to steal money from the common man by portraying them as scavengers: sharks, hawks, and wolves. Keppler shows their animalistic and vicious nature, but he also demonstrates their greed by depicting two lawyers sitting comfortably in a boat full of money who insist “the law must take its course.” Not only did legal corruption pervade the American Gilded Age, but it was also evident in English history during the 1870s as reflected in the image, Brutum Fulmen.
Friedrich Graetz. Chromolithograph. Puck. May 31, 1882.
The Gilded Age is often characterized by the spoils system and illegal political practices which both John Kelly Galvanizes Tammany and American Invention for Blowing up Bosses satirize.
John Kelly Galvanizes Tammany mocks the hypothetical rebirth of Tammany Hall, a Democratic Party political machine that had power over the elections in New York throughout the Gilded Age with the use of corrupt practices such as patronage—a system of giving out benefits for political allegiance that was used extensively on newly migrated immigrants. John Kelly, the figure dressed in western attire in the caricature, came to power in the mid-1870s. Known as “Honest” Kelly, he rid Tammany Hall of Boss Tweed’s men after Tweed’s long running corrupt leadership and subsequent arrest.
Tammany Hall itself is portrayed as a Native American due to the origins of the name that comes from a leader of the Lenape. John Kelly tries to revive Tammany Hall in the caricature following their loss to the Republican candidate in 1879. Kelly is portrayed as having “made a deal with the Republican Party” because his run for election split the Democrat vote. The celebratory feel of the caricature with the champagne bottles and smiling faces could be perceived as contextually ironic. The caricaturist might be acclaiming the loss of the election and thus mocking Kelly's futile attempt to revitalize Tammany who is already in a coffin.
Joseph Keppler. Chromolithograph. Punch. January 13, 1904.
This Gilded Age satirical piece by Joseph Keppler depicts prominent businessmen such as JP Morgan and Rockefeller as giants squaring off against Theodore Roosevelt. The size of the corporate bosses relative to Roosevelt implies that America was ruled by the men on Wall Street rather than the government. In fact, in the Gilded Age, these men and their corporations were allowed to grow uncontrollably due to a lack of regulation.
In the light of the 1904 presidential election, Theodore Roosevelt campaigned to take on these “Wall Street Giants” to fight for the rights of the common men who were exploited by these corporate giants. The sword he carries represents the public service he intends to perform by protecting both workers and consumers from big business practices. The expressions of the giants show that Roosevelt is unwelcome; however, the posture and demeanor of Roosevelt’s stance show that he will not be deterred from his goal. The glistening Trinity Church at the end of the street serves as a symbol for a moral standard towards which Joseph Keppler wishes Wall Street would strive but does not. From satirizing robber barons to calling for the better treatment of lower class Americans, this caricature touches on many of the issues discussed in this exhibit.
Joseph Keppler. Chromolithograph. Puck. 1885.
Although the caricature Cut Out! was published in the American satirical newspaper Puck, Joseph Keppler is pointedly mocking the nineteenth-century European colonization of Africa. This event lends itself well to satire, as there is already a comical element in the idea of an elaborate competition between European countries to prove their own superiority and power. Poking fun at the antics of many esteemed European politicians is then easily accomplished by exaggerating the trademark mustache of the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and obsequious fawning of the British PM William Gladstone.
Within this humorous take on colonization there is a serious criticism of it, as Keppler hints at the corruption of European politics by suggesting that fawning over Africa comes at the expense of Europe itself. This interpretation of colonization hinges on the idea that Africa has no real value to Europe beyond bolstering reputations, which further complicates the caricature by making Africa the butt of the joke. In the context of America and European racial discrimination, the caricature’s humor then becomes racist as the very image of a black woman dolled up in Western clothes is meant to be both ludicrous and comical.
George Du Maurier. Woodblock engraving. Punch. October 22, 1870.
In this caricature by George Du Maurier, an upper class man attempts to discipline children of lower stature. We can infer their social classes from the colloquial language used in their dialogue, the distinctive attire of the characters, and their postures. The children disregard the man’s threat because the police officer in the background of the caricature is their father.
This situation highlights the social conflicts of British society in the Victorian era, and satirizes the law enforcement’s role in keeping the peace between the social classes. This situation directly relates to the title of this piece, Brutum Fulmen—a Latin phrase meaning “empty threat,” which is exactly what the old man’s warning to the children becomes. Many policemen in this time came from the lower and working classes, and especially in the metropole, many lived in the area they policed. Using all this, Du Maurier satirized the resultant corruption of law enforcement, and the perceived irreconcilability of class differences. A similar theme is also seen in the American Gilded Age, reflected in the above image, Legalized Plunderers.
D.K. Chromolithograph. Puck. November 16, 1881.
During the crooked political environment of the Gilded Age, voters were often coerced into voting for a particular party, either by money or brute force. Additionally, political bosses frequently gained voters using promises of improvement, such as food and shelter. Contrary to their promises, the election of political bosses to office often resulted in the rundown of the officiated region, including unsanitary conditions and poorly built roads. As a result, the cartoonist of this caricature calls for the American public to realize the counterproductive effects of the political machine, change its perspective, and exercise its right to the free ballot. The idea of a necessary change in public opinion is embodied by the inverted compass which lies on the chimney – a symbolic representation of a need for “redirection” in public common sense.
The caricature further suggests that, upon making this change, many corrupt officials, such as the politician John Kelly, would be removed from office. In fact, Kelly’s name is specifically mentioned in the cartoon, placed clearly on a ballot slip! Kelly was responsible for reviving Tammany Hall, as depicted in the cartoon John Kelly Galvanizes the Corpse of Tammany.