Puck Magazine & Jospeh Keppler: Kings of Satire
Named for the mischievous fairy in Shakespeare’s“Mid-Summer Night’s Dream,” Puck Magazine was the brainchild of German political cartoonist, Joseph Keppler. He founded it in 1876 to poke fun at the political classes.
For the first year, it was only published in German, which gives you an idea of how many Germans lived in New York City. Out of a total population of 1.5 million in 1890, more than 400,000 people were either born in Germany or came from at least one German parent.
Puck was an instant hit in German, and the next year it came out in English as well. By 1885, circulation had reached close 100,000 (about 6.6% of the city population), and Kepler’s cartoons were the talk of the town.
This style of political satire was entirely new in America and represented a degree of sophistication imported from Europe – along with its readers.
The Puck Building lies along our tour of Little Italy, standing on the corner of Houston and Lafayette. In 1917, the magazine met its match in the person of William Randolph Hearst, who after years of abuse from its pen, finally managed to silence it by buying the magazine and closing it down.
Now it is just an office building, but playful Puck still stands above the door.
William Jennings Bryan & Civil Service
Above is the great, 3-time populist candidate for president, William Jennings Bryan. He’s pouring water labeled ‘editorials’ from a pitcher labeled ‘the commoner’ into President McKinley’s paper crown. It’s interesting that it would be referred to as the ‘Bryan-made crown’ – perhaps a commentary on how Bryan essentially handed McKinley the election in both 1896 and 1900 by running such poor campaigns. As for the rest, we leave it up to speculation.
The cartoon, just to the left, is easier to interpret. The year is 1881, and out-going president Rutherford B. Hayes is leaving the baby of Civil Service Reform on the doorstep of President-elect James Garfield.
Civil Service was the cause celebre of social reformers through the latter half of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century as well. Up until that time, political machines like Tammany Hall’s democratic party or Mark Hanna’s Republican Party, had handed out jobs like Halloween candy to the faithful. ”To the victor go the spoils,” in Andrew Jackson’s words. But government was failing to respond to the growing needs of the people. Ultimately, through the tireless work of thousands of reformers, this baby grew up in the form of Civil Service examinations and other means to assure quality in government.
James Blaine & the 1884 Election
This cartoon, just above, has been called the most influential cartoon in American history. At center is the figure of James Blaine, former speaker of the House of Representatives and Republican Presidential candidate in 1884.
Here Blaine’s body is shown tattooed with the sins of his political past. He is so marred by corruption that even the party bosses – depicted as Roman senators lounging in their togas – are disgusted.
Hugely popular at the time, this cartoon may well have determined the outcome of the election, helping Grover Cleveland become the first Democrat to be elected President since before the Civil War. Cleveland defeated Blaine 4,911,017 to 4,848,334. In terms of popular vote, it was the closest margin of victory in a presidential election in American History.
Puck Magazine Cartoons
Below are a few more cartoons from Puck Magazine for you to enjoy. See how many of the characters you recognize. There are some famous ones: JP Morgan, John D Rockefeller, President Grant, Uncle Sam and Tom Bull…
Experience these and other stories in our Little Italy tour. We offer a unique New York walking tour experience, told with audio narration, hundreds of pictures, video clips, gps-enabled map, trivia quizzes, local recommendations, and much more. Walk NYC with Racontrs and take a walk through history.