Two men, one holding a rolled up item.Herb Block began his illustrious seventy-two-year career in his native Chicago in 1929, just six months before the stock market crash plunged the world into the Great Depression. During his first decade as a cartoonist, the themes of economic catastrophe and war dominated his work. Only nineteen when his career began, Block imitated the Midwestern School of editorial cartooning epitomized by John T. McCutcheon of the Chicago Tribune, characterized by sparing use of black space and a loose ink brush line on smooth, layered paper board. Early in 1933 Block left Chicago for Cleveland, becoming the editorial cartoonist for Scripps-Howard’s syndicate, the Newspaper Enterprise Association Service (NEA). By the mid-1930s his characteristic style—the use of strong graphite shading and confident ink brush strokes on stippled coquille paper—had emerged. His characters lost their comic strip roundedness and became more accurate representations as well as strong caricatures. By the time World War II erupted, Block had broken with the Midwestern School and matured as a cartoonist.

The Approaching Perils

Herblock, in the simple and humorous “Midwestern Style” of cartooning, uses the metaphor of a car accident to relate to the ongoing depression in both the American and European economies. In 1931, the collapse in banking led one country after another to withdraw from the gold standard. President Herbert Hoover shored up American banks with loans from private financiers as Europe had done, resulting in the Depression’s worsening in 1932.

The Approaching Perils, 1931. Ink and blue watercolor wash with scraping out over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Chicago Daily News, October 12, 1931. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (01.00.00). LC-DIG-hlb-00011

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Climbing Out of the Hole

Ups and downs characterized the U.S. economy during recovery from the Depression. In this cartoon, Herblock draws attention to the fear of inflation resulting from President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal economic recovery reforms. Figures representing the rising prices of 1935 clamber up a ladder over a trapped figure who objects loudly on behalf of consumers caught short by increased costs of living. Newspapers touted increases in commodity values, yet also noted consumers’ growing fiscal hardships at this time.

Climbing Out of the Hole, 1935. Crayon, ink, opaque white, and paste-on over blue pencil underdrawing. Published by the Newspaper Enterprise Association Service, November 13, 1935. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (02.00.00). LC-DIG-hlb-00029

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“Don’t Look Now, but He’s Still Standing There”

As President Franklin Roosevelt and Congress made plans for economic recovery during the 1936 election year, unemployment loomed large. At the beginning of 1936, economists predicted that unemployment would continue unabated, despite government infusion of money into the economy. More than 11,000,000 people remained unemployed, virtually unchanged from 1932, despite the increase in national productivity. Republican critics assailed Roosevelt and his policies and began the campaign lecture circuit against him.

“Don’t Look Now, but He’s Still Standing There,” 1936. Crayon, ink, opaque white, and paste-on over blue pencil underdrawing. Published by the Newspaper Enterprise Association Service, January 20, 1936. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (03.00.00). LC-DIG-hlb-00073

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The January Industrial Curve

A recession in 1937 marked a major setback in the nation’s recovery from the Depression. Industrial production fell sharply and unemployment increased markedly between August 1937 and May 1938. Playing on the breadline, an iconic image of the era, Herblock depicts captains of industry lining up at the White House to seek aid. Following an emergency appropriation of $5 billion for work relief and public works by Congress, economic recovery began to pick up again by June.

The January Industrial Curve, 1938. Crayon, ink, opaque white, and paste-on over blue pencil underdrawing. Published by the Newspaper Enterprise Association Service, January 17, 1938. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (04.00.00). LC-DIG-hlb-00387

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Fireside Chat

Herblock uses the familiar fireside chats Franklin D. Roosevelt gave to the American people as a backdrop for the Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1937. As soon as his second presidential administration began, Roosevelt proposed increasing the number of justices on the Supreme Court—appointing one judge for each sitting judge more than 70 1/2—in order to ensure support for his future New Deal legislation. As a result, some opponents accused Roosevelt of behaving like fascist leaders in Europe. The “court packing bill” died, and the Supreme Court began to approve more New Deal legislation.

Fireside Chat, 1937. Crayon, ink, opaque white, and paste-on over blue pencil underdrawing. Published by the Newspaper Enterprise Service Association, March 6, 1937. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (05.00.00). LC-DIG-hlb-00128

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Historical Figures

In February 1937 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that parts of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s economic recovery plan—the Agricultural Adjustment Administration and the National Recovery Administration—were unconstitutional. In response, Roosevelt proposed increasing the number of justices from nine to fifteen, which would have allowed him to appoint the new justices. Herblock’s humorous perspective on waxing and waning numbers of Supreme Court justices clarifies how radically altered the court would have been if the legislation had passed.

Historical Figures, 1937. Crayon, ink, opaque white, and paste-on over blue pencil underdrawing. Published by the Newspaper Enterprise Service Association, February 19, 1937. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (06.00.00). LC-DIG-hlb-00071

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Silence in the Courtroom

The Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1937 polarized the nation; here Herblock makes light of the voracity of the congressional reaction in contrast with the unwillingness of the Supreme Court to render decisions about elements of Franklin Roosevelt’s agenda to recover from the Depression. Debate raged about Roosevelt’s desire for the justices to retire at seventy; whether it was Roosevelt or the Court that operated as a dictatorship; and whether Roosevelt should have proposed the reorganization. The Supreme Court’s silence on the constitutionality of some New Deal programs prevented Roosevelt from being able to fully implement them.

Silence in the Courtroom, 1937. Crayon, ink, opaque white, and paste-on over blue pencil underdrawing. Published by the Newspaper Enterprise Association Service, March 3, 1937. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (07.00.00). LC-DIG-hlb-00140

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In a State Where You Can’t Teach Evolution

Herblock draws a connection between Tennessee’s law against teaching evolution and the marriage of nine-year-old Eunice Winstead to twenty-two-year-old Charlie Johns in Sneedville, Tennessee. The wedding, which had occurred by the side of a road without ado, created a hullabaloo, and for Herblock it evoked the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, in which a Tennessee teacher was convicted for teaching evolution. The Tennessee state legislature immediately instituted a minimum marriage age of fourteen, while ministers decried the marriage as “a crime against society.” The couple remained married and eventually raised nine children.

In a State Where You Can’t Teach Evolution, 1937. Crayon, ink, opaque white, and paste-on over blue pencil underdrawing. Published by the Newspaper Enterprise Association Service, February 3, 1937. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (08.00.00). LC-DIG-hlb-01319

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Dear Santa: See America First!

To the delight of his admirers, Herblock created a number of special Christmas cartoons of Santa Claus in a vein that recalls his cartoonist predecessor Thomas Nast. Here, he mocks the practices of totalitarian states by imagining poor Saint Nick’s encounters with security personnel. Mindful of how absurdly the uniformed officers of such nations as Russia, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Japan could interpret Santa’s motives, he creates amusing, but taxing scenarios for the “right jolly old elf.”

Dear Santa: See America First! 1937. Crayon, ink, opaque white, and paste-on over blue pencil underdrawing. Published by the Newspaper Enterprise Association Service, December 24, 1937. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (09.00.00). LC-DIG-hlb-00138

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