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Tusche, tone and stone: 19th C. news illustration

Puck's changing views on labor: 1882-1897
The images described on this page are listed in chronological order. It is suggested that they form an additional pattern: a progressive withdrawal of empathy during this time on the part of Keppler (and the three other Puck artists whose work is illustrated here) for the overworked, underpaid, and generally unprotected worker and his family. There seems to be a tacit understanding that the worker is worthy of being championed as long as he remains 'downtrodden,' but not when he shows strength in organized numbers capable of carrying out a boycott, or when he isn't properly grateful for philanthropic efforts made with a portion of the profits produced as a result of his labor. See what you think.

Joseph Keppler
1882 rich & poor
c. 1882
detail: 1882 rich & poor
center detail
Keppler illustrates quotes from a New York State Chamber of Commerce banquet held at Delmonico's, May 9, 1882. The celebratory words are contrasted to what is a starker, more accurate reality for the working majority.

Above: lower left "We have a country covered all over with charitable institutions for the poor and unfortunaate." -- Keppler draws poor houses and jails from Maine to California.

Above: lower right "Everybody born in this country can contemplate the possibility of becoming the President of the United States." -- Keppler continues to contrast the words of the speech with images that suggest a very different reality. He holds up Benjamin Butler, U.S. Grant and New York City comptroller, John Kelly [as drawn by Puck artist Frederick Opper], each of whom was accused, rightly or wrongly of personal corruption.

Butler held progressive opinons, and no wrong doing was ever proved. He had been a Union officer and after the Civil War was a Radical Republican who championed Populist, progressive values, including strict enforcement of Reconstruction efforts, civil rights for African-Americans and naturalized citizens, the 8 hour day, and a relaxed monetary policy. He later switched to the Democratic Party, and ran for President on the Populist ticket in 1884. During U. S. Grant's administration, then Senator Butler was a strong administration supporter. The corruption that existed during the Grant administration may have made Butler suspect in Keppler's view. Grant, though personally honest, was tainted by the scandals that occured during his administration. John Kelly, a power broker and head of Tammany Hall was no better than he had to be.

A. B. Shultz
March 31, 1886
C. J. Taylor
Scab, Agitator, Striker
c. 1886-1900

Labor struggle and strife was common and increasingly bloody after the Civil War, as workers learned to organize for better working conditions while their often paternalistic employers, with varying degrees of rigidity, sought to maintain managerial power. See also Thomas Nast's unsympathetic view of labor after violence erupted at an otherwise peaceful demonstration in Chicago's Haymarket Square. Haymarket events occurred just two months after the Shultz cover (above) for Puck.

Above left: The caption for the A. B. Shultz cover illustration: "IS NOT THIS ONLY ANOTHER FORM OF 'MONOPOLY'? For the Sake of One Man, Discharged for Cause, Thousands of Workingmen are Forced Out of Employment, Business is Paralyzed, and Destruction of Life and Property Threatened -- All by Order of Professional Agitators. Is this Fair to the Workingman -- or to Anyone Else?"

In the accompanying editorial, Puck suggests strikes are only justified when the workers directly involved are the ones to strike; sympathetic boycotts are not justified. Puckcites the example of a local strike by workers of the South-Western Railroad and the repercussions following sympathy strikes by other rail workers around the country.

Above right: C. J. Taylor's caption: "--The regulation end of the strike -- The 'Scab' drives, the Agitator rides, and the Striker gets coldly left"

Samuel Ehrhardt
Modern Barons
c. 1889
Samuel Ehrhardt
workers whine
July 7, 1897
detail of center

Above left: Ehrhardt's illustration addresses the collateral issues of tariffs and monopolies; these issues would continue to provoke debate -- caption: "History repeats itself: The Robber Barons of the Middle Ages and the Robber Barons of Today.' The McKinley Tariff Act and the Sherman Antitrust Act would both be passed in 1890: the former was favored by big business, the latter intended to curb the concentration of economic power in monopolies. These issues were made to order for the many political cartoons that appeared in Puck, Judge and elsewhere at the turn of the century.

Above right Caption: "The popular tendency to rail at wealth is not entirely justified"
Ehrhardt's central figures are a disgrunteled 'chorus' of voices, demanding "Down with selfish, grasping Capital!". An early voice for 'trickle down economics,' he suggests that charities funded by the wealthy to provide low cost housing, free milk, museums, libraries, hospitals and universities for the benefit of the poor somehow undercuts the demands of the working class for tariff and labor reform, and soft money. Compared to Ehrhardt's earlier drawing of the Robber Barons, or Keppler's even earlier image of the workers, this drawing made 15 years later retains little if any sympathy for labor's position.

Also note that the two most tattered figures -- one a brick carrier, the other a 'chronic idler' -- have gross, Leprechaun-like facial features. This stereotypic view was often used to depict the Irish immigrant worker and shows up frequently in images related to Tammany Hall.