Ben Franklin Flies Kite, Discovers The Political Cartoon!!
I’ve always enjoyed political cartoons. I drew a weekly cartoon for Congress Daily
for close to seven years. You can see some of them here.
I doubt he was flying his kite at the time, but Ben Franklin is credited with creating the first American political cartoon. It was published in Franklin’s own Pennsylvania Gazette on May 9, 1754. Here’s how it looked with the surrounding text:
It was in the news recently because a rare copy of the May 9, 1754 issue will be sold at auction in California on September 13, 2011. You can submit a bid online, but I should warn you: the requested opening bid is $50,000. Oops– never mind.
I had never seen the cartoon in its original context on the newspaper page. I had assumed it was about the same size as today’s political cartoons. Quite the contrary, as you can see below:
And I had always thought Franklin created the cartoon to rally the American Colonies
to unite against British rule. Not so. Franklin was actually urging the Colonies to unite against the French who were blocking British colonial expansion to the west. It was only later, when the cartoon was republished in 1765 by those who opposed the Stamp Act, that it became associated with rebellion against the British.
Ben and I did intersect on an art project once. I was asked to draw some caricatures for an American History study guide. Alas– he only made the back cover. See if you can pick him out below. (I’ll give you a hint: the other guys are Elvis, Chris Columbus, and George W. Bush.)