A century ago one of the most influential cartoonists in America was born—Herbert Block, better known as “Herblock.” The Library of Congress celebrates this anniversary with a look at his remarkable seventy-two-year career, which began in 1929 during the administration of President Herbert Hoover and concluded in 2001 under President George W. Bush.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 13, 1909, Block began his career as a professional cartoonist in 1929, working for the Chicago Daily News and the Newspaper Enterprise Association Service (NEA). In 1946, he joined the Washington Post, where he remained for fifty-five years, until he died in Washington, D.C., on October 7, 2001.
Underneath his genius for cartooning and writing lies a modest, sweet, aw-shucks personality. Underneath that lies a layer of iron and steel. For the publishers and editors over him—or under him, as it would be more accurate to say—it's like having a tiger by the tail.
Katharine Graham, late Washington Post publisher
A master of editorial cartooning, Block wielded his pen effectively and artfully, using it to condemn corruption and expose injustice, inequality, and immorality. Through his compelling cartoons he influenced public opinion and affected prominent elected officials. Block aggravated politicians, including Senator Joseph McCarthy, who publicly denounced him, and Spiro Agnew, President Richard Nixon’s first vice president, who disparaged him as “master of sick invective.” An independent spirit, Block broke ranks with his publishers on specific issues and voiced his own opinion in every cartoon he drew. He received prestigious awards and critical acclaim from his peers, winning three Pulitzer Prizes (in 1942, 1954, and 1979) and sharing a fourth with Washington Post colleagues for coverage of the Watergate scandal in 1973.
Summing up complex issues in simple drawings requires curiosity, an appetite for news, a bountiful gift for free association, and the killer instinct of an assassin. Herblock had them all.
Doug Marlette, editorial cartoonist
In 2002, the Herb Block Foundation donated Block’s archive to the Library of Congress, which is dedicated to fostering a free and informed society by building, preserving, and making accessible a universal collection of human knowledge. The Herbert L. Block Collection includes more than 14,000 finished cartoons, in addition to preliminary sketches, files, and manuscripts. Some of the best works Block created, most of which have never been previously displayed at the Library, are included in this exhibition. The Library exhibits these works from its superb holdings of cartoon art, as part of its mission to document American creativity and achievement for future generations.