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 John Tinney McCutcheon  (1870 - 1949)

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Lived/Active: Illinois/Indiana      Known for: cartoons, caricature, illustrator

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Ad Code: 3
John Tinney McCutcheon
from Auction House Records.
Group of 4 political cartoons (4)
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
In the first half of the 20th century, John McCutcheon was known as the "dean of American editorial cartoonists." For many years he was the noted front-page cartoonist for the "Chicago Tribune", and also served as a war correspondent. Many credit him for having invented, or at least popularized, the human interest editorial cartoon.

The first of these appeared in the spring of 1902, and was dubbed The Boy in Springtime. It depicted the kind of kid McCutcheon and thousands of others in the Midwest had been, a carefree youth going fishing on the first day of warm weather. It was neither topical nor political, but in its portrayal of a simple human condition it suggested another direction that editorial cartoons could go. McCutcheon felt he could deliver stinging cartoon rebukes when some evil demanded it, but he believed it was better to reach out a friendly pictorial hand to the delinquent than to assail him with criticism and denunciation.

The June 11, 1949, Chicago Tribune, an editorial lamenting the artists death said: "It's a great pity that men like John McCutcheon can't go on living and working forever, for the world never has had enough of them."

Purdue President James Smart may have had different thoughts during McCutcheon's years at Purdue. McCutcheon, an 1889 graduate of the university, was considered something of a "problem" student by Smart. He was at different times reprimanded for visiting the Ladies Literary Society without permission, and McCutcheon was kicked off the staff of The Purdue, the student newspaper, for publishing an unapproved issue.

McCutcheon's work and play in his post-Purdue years, though, brought him high praise across the Midwest and the country - and back home in Tippecanoe County. He worked for the "Chicago Tribune" for more than 40 years, and before that for 14 years for the "Chicago News" and "Record-Herald". McCutcheon, traveled the city, the country, and the world, chronicling life and war in pictures and in words. In one of his political cartoons, he likened events at the 1912 Republican Convention in the Chicago Coliseum to events at the Coliseum in ancient Rome, with the Republican Party about to be torn apart as the Republican National Committee gives a "thumbs down." The Republican Party was indeed torn apart that year. (Teddy Roosevelt's supporters created a new party -the Progressive Party- in order to nominate him.)

McCutcheon was considered an understanding man by the many that knew him and his work. His cartoons were known for being earnest, sincere and lighthearted. A colleague at the Tribune, on McCutcheon's 40th anniversary at the paper, wrote that his qualities were "simplicity, kindliness, a sense of humor, and ability to see through his fellow humans without rancor."

It was during his early years in Tippecanoe County that McCutcheon formed many of his ideas about life. Born near Lafayette, Indiana, he recalls in his autobiography, "Drawn From Memory," the happiness of his home and family and the fun times of his youth.

He was born on a farm near South Raub in Tippecanoe County. His father was John Barr McCutcheon, a popular man who held a number of jobs over the years. At one period he was sheriff of Tippecanoe County, and the family lived next to the jail. For another job, McCutcheons father and mother were in charge of food services at Purdue, and the family lived in Ladies Hall.

During his youth, McCutcheon went to various schools and took on several hobbies. He and a pal delivered papers, put on plays, ran a detective service, painted barns, and put out a newspaper, the Elston News, with circulation limited mainly to the McCutcheon clan.

He began classes at Purdue at the age of 15. When it became clear to him that mathematics and engineering were not his strong points, he switched gears and began taking art classes. McCutcheon once said that if agriculture had contained the fewest math requirements, he might have ended up a farmer and not a newspaperman.

While in college, he met George Ade, who invited McCutcheon to become a member of Sigma Chi fraternity. From that time on, according to Ade's biography, the two were inseparable.

McCutcheon was one of the Purdue commencement speakers in the spring of 1889. His address was called "Caricature in Art," although at the time, he said, he had no intention of becoming a cartoonist for a living. He thought he would be a writer of some sort.

After graduation, on a trip to Chicago in search of employment, he was encouraged to practice more on his drawings. He spent the summer compiling samples. In the fall of 1889, he headed back to Chicago, where he was offered a two-week tryout at the Chicago Morning News. That test turned into a 14-year association with the News, the Record and the Record-Herald.

McCutcheon convinced his good friend Ade to join him in Chicago in 1890, and the two worked together at the Record, living in a rooming house on South Michigan Avenue. On Nov. 20, 1893, McCutcheon and Ade began a successful collaboration with "Stories of the Streets and of the Town," a feature in the Chicago Record. Ade wrote the stories; McCutcheon drew the pictures. The two spent many hours out and about in Chicago together, meeting people and telling their stories.

In 1895, the two expanded their horizons, traveling to Europe. While there, they continued to send back stories and illustrations for publication in Chicago.

After spending the first 19 years of his life in Tippecanoe County, McCutcheon caught the travel bug and spent much of the rest of his life exploring the world.

Ade once said McCutcheon's greatest enjoyment was "playing hooky." But it was drawings and writings of his hooky playing that gained him much acclaim.

McCutcheon was a correspondent for many battles, including the Spanish-American War, the Boer War in South Africa in 1900, and World War I. When he went to Europe to reconnoiter the outbreak of the war, noted cartoonist Frank King filled in briefly for McCutcheon at the Tribune. McCutcheon made trips to the Philippines in 1901; Japan in 1904; central Asia in 1906; and met up with Theodore Roosevelt while on a hunting expedition in Africa in 1909. He wrote and illustrated many stories from his travels - among them, "Stories of Filipino Warfare," "In Africa" and "T.R. in Cartoons."

In 1907, McCutcheon penned what was, and probably still is, his most popular cartoon, "Injun Summer." The drawing has been described as a cartoon that catches perfectly the nostalgia of the city man for the country and of the adult for his childhood. In discussing the cartoon, which was printed each fall for many years, beginning in 1907, McCutcheon said that its origins lay in his boyish imagination when he used to think of the ghosts of departed Indians.

Later, in 1914 at the outbreak of World War I, he drew "Colors," showing a farm field at peace, at war, and filled with tombstones. Like "Injun Summer," "Colors" was often repeated in the pages of the Tribune.

Marriage in 1917 did not end his wanderlust. McCutcheon and his wife, Evelyn Shaw, continued traveling, flying into jungles, boating on the Amazon and cruising the skies in a zeppelin. He and his wife had three sons, John Tinney McCutcheon Jr., Shaw, and George Barr McCutcheon, all three raised in Chicago. George later became became a well-known author.

In addition to writing and drawing for the Tribune, McCutcheon contributed to some of Ade's writings and to other publications and periodicals such as Cosmopolitan and Saturday Evening Post.

He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for the cartoon "A Wise Economist Asks a Question," published in the Tribune in 1931. The cartoon, which followed the banking collapse, featured a man with his head in his hands being asked why he hadn't saved money for the hard times. The man answers, "I did."

Once McCutcheon had broken ground in the human-interest editorial cartoon dimension, others followed him. Working for the Midwestern newspaper with perhaps the largest circulation in the region, McCutcheon was Chicagos reigning newspaper artist for many years, and a great influence on a generation of cartoonists. He held the field against hundreds who aspired for work with Chicagos newspapers. Many, including George Storm imitated the format used by their idol. McCutcheon was also an inspiration to Clare Briggs, and the work of Jack Callahan is also close in style to that of McCutcheon. Legions of other regional editorial cartoonists, such as Billy Ireland and James Donahey achieved fame as editorial cartoonists in their cities or states, but are less known because they worked without benefit of syndication.

In Chicago, John T. McCutcheon was also president of the Chicago Zoological Society from 1922 until his death in 1949.

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John McCutcheon is also mentioned in these AskART essays:

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