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Chicago Tribune political cartoons, 1918-1929, PDF file


3. Chicago Tribune Political Cartoons

To offer a unique perspective on the Twenties, six collections of primary materials are presented in Theme I, each from a single source—newsreels, cartoons, political cartoons, animated cartoons, subway posters, and a 1931 retrospective. We encourage you to mix and match materials from two or more collections as a device for studying the period; a collection discussion guide is offered to stimulate study and analysis. Let's proceed to this section's collection—political cartoons from the nationally influential newspaper, the Chicago Tribune.

Founded in 1847, the Tribune is one of the oldest American newspapers in circulation; in the 1920s its Republican editorial stand mirrored mainstream American political opinion. Twenty-four political cartoons from the Tribune are presented here—two per year from 1918 to 1929—created by the longtime Tribune cartoonists John McCutcheon and Carey Orr, whose instantly recognizable work was widely reprinted throughout the country. Together the cartoons represent a mini-history of the major issues and dominant attitudes of the period. Topics include the end of World War One, the Red Scare, modern mores, business prosperity and agricultural depression, Prohibition, organized crime, women in politics, the Klan in politics, racial and labor unrest, the tariff and immigration debates, the rise of urban America, automobile traffic and aviation feats, foreign concerns, and, of course, stock speculation and the 1929 crash. What constituted the unique style and message of Chicago Tribune cartoons of the 1920s? How did they convey the mainstream Republican viewpoint of the period—and opposing viewpoints? (25 pp.)

Discussion Questions

  1. To begin, study your response to the political cartoons. Select one that most directly conveyed its point to you. Explain its point. What aspects of the drawing, labels, title, etc., funneled the cartoon's point to you?
  2. Is the cartoon funny? Does it deliver its point through humor? If so, how? Is humor appropriate to the cartoon's point?
  3. If the cartoon is not funny, what adjective describes its tone? In other words, through what emotion or impact did the cartoonist deliver his point? Would humor have been an inappropriate device to convey the point? Why?
  4. Redraw the cartoon with a different mode of conveying the point, e.g., with or without humor, using different figures and symbols, directing the reader's attention to another aspect of the issue. What did you learn about the original cartoon by reconceptualizing it?
  5. In each of the cartoons in the collection, determine the editorial opinion of the newspaper. How did the cartoonist convey this opinion?
  6. In which cartoons is an opposing viewpoint represented? How? To what effect?
  7. Compare the thirteen cartoons created by John T. McCutcheon (age fifty in 1920) with the eleven created by Carey Orr (age thirty in 1920). What factors distinguish their techniques of drawing and conveying a political point? Which cartoonist do you find more effective, and why?
  8. Overall, characterize the typical Chicago Tribune cartoon of the 1920s. How did the Tribune cartoons of McCutcheon and Orr epitomize the prevalent issues and attitudes of the period?
  9. Combine the Chicago Tribune political cartoons with other single-source collections in this Theme, e.g., with humor cartoons (New Yorker) or with another news medium (Detroit News silent newsreels). What unique insights can be gained by studying single-source collections from a period? What limits do they present? [See collection discussion guide for THE AGE.]

Framing Questions

  • How are the Twenties immediately familiar to 21st-century observers? In what ways does the decade seem remote and old-fashioned?
  • Identify and explain four characteristics of the Twenties that most differentiate the decade from the 1910s and the 1930s.
  • What are benefits and downsides of snapshot views of a historical period?
  • What research would you conduct to test a hypothesis about the 1920s gained from these snapshot views?


Chicago Tribune political cartoons

25 pp.

Supplemental Sites

History of the Chicago Tribune (Encyclopedia of Chicago, Newberry Library)

Tribune cartoonists in this collection, resources:
Analyzing political cartoons: guides from

Images: political cartoons reproduced by permission of the Chicago Tribune.
– John T. McCutcheon, "Misplaced Economy," April 25, 1922.
– Carey Orr, "A Counter Explosion," May 5, 1923.
– John T. McCutcheon, "As She Looks for Her Standard Bearer," June 2, 1924.
– Carey Orr, "Hands across the Sea," June 7, 1925.
– Carey Orr, "Bullet Proof," April 29, 1926.
– John T. McCutcheon, "Taken for a Ride," Oct. 25, 1929.

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