Thomas Nast (1840-1902), German-American cartoonist and caricaturist, born in Landau, Germany, and educated at the National Academy of Design, New York City.
Thomas Nast the son of a Bavarian army bandsman, was born in 1840 in Landau, in the Rheinish Palatinate. Nast was brought to United States at a age of six in 1846; grew up in New York City. Before he learned English he was able to express himself with simple drawings on his slate. His artistic talent enabled him to enter an art school at an early age, but he had to leave at fifteen in order to support his family. After studying with Theodore Kaufmann and Alfred Fredericks, and in the school of the National Academy . Upon his first interview he was immediately hired as illustrator for Leslie's Weekly Illustrated Newspaper (1855) at four dollars per week. He began his career with a cartoon attacking civic corruption. In 1860, at the age of 20, he covered a heavyweight championship in London for the New York Illustrated News. From there he joined the forces of Garibaldi in Italy as war correspondent. With the outbreak of the American Civil War, he returned to the United States, where he married his fiancée Sarah Edwards, a well-educated young lady who contributed in no small measure to her husband's success. In the spring of 1862 Nast joined the staff of Harper's Weekly as Civil War correspondent visiting the battlefields in the South and the Border States and sending back on-the-scene sketches. At the end of the war, Nast had become a nationally known figure as political cartoonist. From now on he took up nearly every national issue of political and social significance. Nast was a champion of the underprivileged and a protagonist of equal rights for all citizens - not only for the newly freed Negro slaves, but for other minority groups as well, such as the American Indians. He also took sides with the Chinese after their immigration had been restricted. He criticized the administration, which pretended to serve "the public good", lampooned bigotry in the Catholic Church, dealt with economic and monetary issues and made Victoria Woodhull and her theories of "Free Love" the receptacle for his stinging irony.
Between 1861 and 1884, Thomas Nast and Harper's Weekly were considered bulwarks of Republicanism and Nast's greatest influence was obviously in politics. He was even called the "president maker", since every presidential candidate whom he supported was elected. Nast popularized several political symbols: the Democratic donkey, the Republican elephant the Tammany tiger. He also gave us our present-day conception of Uncle Sam, John Bull and Columbia. The figure Nast drew, which was based on Pelznikel, the St. Nicholas of his German ancestors, is the famous Santa Claus, now known to everybody in the country. After the death of Nast's friend and supporter Fletcher Harper, a younger generation of editors changed the policy of the magazine. It became less liberal and Nast's career declined. Not willing to tolerate any censorship, Nast thought that after more than twenty-five years of work, it was time to travel, to rest and to devote more of his hours to his family. He put together a collection of Christmas drawings, which were published in 1890 under the title, Thomas Nast's Christmas Drawings for the Human Race.
When one of his cherished plans, publishing his own magazine, failed, he fell into debt. Therefore he accepted an appointment as Consul General to Ecuador, offered to him by one of his old admirers, Theodore Roosevelt. But the tropical heat and the unsanitary living conditions in Ecuador were too much for the sixty-two-year-old artist. On December 7, 1902, he succumbed to an epidemic of yellowfever - not without having paid back his debts and leaving some money for his family.
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