Sneak Peak: Working Class Cartoons

Art from the Working Class Perspective

As the American labor movement became stronger in the 1900s, workers had their own newspapers. According to historian Karla Kelling Sclater:

By the end of the 19th century, working-class newspapers proliferated in cities across the country. Between 1880-1940, thousands of labor and radical publications circulated, constituting a golden age for working-class newspapers. Although both radical and labor newspapers struggled to finance their publications, utopian, socialistic, and independent journalism produced thousands of papers during this period that contributed significant alternative voices to mainstream journalism and society. Socialist, Wobbly, and Anarchist papers printed in many languages, burgeoned from the late nineteenth century until World War I, when anti-sedition laws succeeded in suppressing radical left-wing publications. Labor union publications, however, increased after Socialist and Wobbly papers declined.

I am currently working on a project to tell the story of the Great Depression and the labor movement through these cartoons. I am in the process of making a short video to give context to these cartoons.

Preview Cartoons

After the stock market crash of 1929, Herbert Hoover, was a deer staring headlights. He was utterly unprepared. His cabinet of business executives had some primitive ideas about the role of government. However, he kept on repeating “prosperity” over and over, until it became a huge joke.

Here are some of the examples:

“The outlook of the world today is for the greatest era of commercial expansion in history. The rest of the world will become better customers.”

—Herbert Hoover in San Francisco, November, 1929

“While the crash only took place six months ago, I am convinced we have now passed the worst and with continued unity of effort we shall rapidly recover. There is one certainty of the future of a people of the resources, intelligence and character of the people of the United States—that is, prosperity.”

—Herbert Hoover, Address at annual dinner of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, October 2, 1930'

“Prosperity” depicted as the “Grim Reaper”

Artist:Jacob Burck

Black Lives Matter…. a Bitter Commentary

Sadly, this cartoon needs no historical context. We see this happen all the time in popular news media. We even have a hashtag for this #BlackLivesMatter.

Caption: “Over 100 whites dead—negroes not counted.”

Artist: Fred Ellis

Bankers and Government

In Calvin Coolidge took over after Warren Harding died, in his “return to normacly” campaign. Normalcy meant a capture government by the elite. Even FDR repeats this in his second inaugural speech:

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace - business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. - FDR

Artist: Jacob Burck


The working class cartoons not only paid attention to local matters, but they paid attention to global matters. They stood in solidarity with India, China and Africa against US and British imperialism.

Caption:Who Is That You All Are Going to Whip, Mr. Legree?

Artist: Robert Minor

Corporate News Media

Of course, we can all relate to the distortions by the corporate news media. Finnish-American artist K.A. Suvanto depicts this in his 1929 drawing.

With this, I hope you bear with me, until I finish making a small video compilation with some historical explanations, as we explore these rich drawings.