ELEPHANTS, DONKEYS, EAGLES, AND UNCLE SAM: NEW DEAL BRANDING FROM THE WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY

This past Thursday, nearly fifty high school students from iPreparatory Academy came through the Wolfsonian library with their instructors for a tour of the fifth floor gallery and a lecture and presentation in the library of visual artifacts that shed some light on the Progressive and New Deal eras. Although our holdings for the Progressive era are not so strong, I had laid out some materials on some of the popular (and highly unpopular) reform movements. In discussing the reaction of some Americans to the Prohibition of Alcohol in the U.S. with the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, we looked at some sheet music covers reminding “thirsty” Americans with the means to travel that “It Will Never Be Dry Down In Havana.”

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GIFT OF VICKI GOLD LEVI

Those same sentiments carried through into the early thirties, as seen in this pre-“repeal” (and obviously pre-Castro) advertising postcard produced by Bacardi in which Uncle Sam himself catches a flight to Havana by Bat to evade the “dry laws” back home.

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GIFT OF VICKI GOLD LEVI

This latter image of Uncle Sam got me to thinking about patriotic and political symbols and their use in trying to sway the opinions of the American public during the Great Depression. And so, today’s blog post examines the ways in which supporters and detractors of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal programs redesigned and deployed such nationally recognized symbols as the GOP elephant, the Democratic donkey, Uncle Sam, and the American eagle to win the public over.

In the run up to the 1932 U.S. presidential election, the incumbent President Herbert Hoover had become so unpopular that much of the Republican electioneering materials avoided using his jowly image and instead featured symbolic images of Uncle Sam and the Grand Old Party’s elephant. In contrast to the GOP’s strong and steady party symbol, the Democratic donkey was depicted as angry and unreliable.

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GIFTS OF FRANCIS XAVIER LUCA AND CLARA HELENA PALACIO LUCA

Republican efforts to retain the presidency failed dismally and the Democratic challenger, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, won the election in a landslide with his promise of a “New Deal.” A political cartoon by Sir Bernard Partridge (1861-1945) in the November 16, 1932 issue of the British periodical, Punch, and reproduced in The Roosevelt Omnibus (1934) compares the electoral victory of Roosevelt to the Greek myth of Ganymede, in which the handsome youth was snatched up and delivered to Zeus on Mount Olympus by an eagle—this one sporting Uncle Sam’s distinctive hat and beard.

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GIFT OF CHRISTOPHER DENOON

With the depression at its worst and one in four Americans out of work, a very different Uncle Sam graced the cover of the July 4th issue of the popular American magazine, Vanity Fair. The cover illustration by Paolo Garetto (1903-1989) pictures dark clouds rather than fireworks, and depicts a depressed and brooding Uncle Sam in the shape of a four.

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THE MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR. COLLECTION

A sheet music cover also published in 1933 pictured a far more confident and upbeat Uncle Sam encouraging patriotic consumers to buy American to ensure that the “good times will come thru.”

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GIFT OF FRANCIS XAVIER LUCA AND CLARA HELENA PALACIO LUCA

Promising to deliver on what he perceived as the nation’s call for “action, and action now,” the newly inaugurated president pushed forward the first phase of his New Deal programs and aggressively campaigned for their acceptance. To deal with the economic crisis in the rural areas, Roosevelt created the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (or AAA); to tackle the crippling crisis in the cities, the president pushed through the National Industrial Recovery Act (1933) and established the National Recovery Administration, (or NRA). According to a photograph and caption included in a commemorative Roosevelt Album published shortly after the president’s death in 1945, it was Charles Toucey Coiner (1898-1989) who designed the NRA’s “blue eagle” emblem.

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GIFT OF FRANCIS XAVIER LUCA AND CLARA HELENA PALACIO LUCA

This “thunderbird,” however, did not carry Ganymede Roosevelt aloft to Mount Olympus; rather it carried in its talons a cogwheel to represent industry and lightning bolts to symbolize the electricity to be generated by other New Deal programs like the REA (Rural Electrification Administration), and the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority).

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THE MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR. COLLECTION

Recognizing that some of the provisions of the act would be controversial, the President’s supporters capitalized on his popularity to help sell the program. They promoted it with patriotic symbols and colors on everything from sheet music covers to first day postal covers.

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GIFTS OF FRANCIS XAVIER LUCA AND CLARA HELENA PALACIO LUCA

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GIFT OF CHRISTOPHER DENOON

Anticipating a boom in orders for NRA compliance posters, display cards, stickers, and seals, the Einson-Freeman Co. in New York began printing patriotic price lists advertising their color lithographic services with the logo and an Uncle Sam opening up his billfold.

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While businesses complying with the new regulations were expected to display cards in their shop windows, the NRA emblem and motto “We do our part” also appeared on all sorts of business advertising materials, including stickers, ticket stubs, and even a cardboard fan for Acme Lager Beer printed in the wake of the repeal of Prohibition.

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THE MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR. COLLECTION

Although membership and compliance with NRA regulations was technically voluntary, the Roosevelt Administration tried to whip up enough popular support to shame businesses into
compliance, and those who refused to display the eagle could find their establishments boycotted. To help generate public interest and support for the program, a NRA ticker tape “parade for prosperity” was organized in New York City featuring marching soldiers and sailors, 200 brass bands, floats and beauty pageant queens. It drew crowds of 250,000.

http://www.britishpathe.com/video/parade-for-prosperity/query/FLOWER+PARADE

Not everyone embraced the NRA “hoopla.” Giacomo Patrí (1898-1978), a left-leaning Italian-American illustrator, published the graphic novel White Collar in which he depicted the enthusiasm for the NRA as empty and meaningless banner-waving that did nothing to help actual blue and white-collar workers.

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THE MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR. COLLECTION

Hollywood filmmakers, actors, and celebrities like James Cagney (1889-1986) and Jimmy Durante, on the other hand, jumped on the NRA bandwagon making some not-so-subtle plugs to promote the “blue eagle” campaign in feature films and promotional shorts.

But even as the Roosevelt Administration and its supporters worked to drum up support for the NRA, critics on the Left and Right attacked the program using caricatures of the “blue eagle” symbol. Not without some justification, the Socialist Labor Party attacked the program as a “businessman’s dole” and satirized the “Thunderbird” by adding a “fat cat” top hat on its head and by picturing helpless workers and factories dangling from its talons.

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THE MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR. COLLECTION 

The Communist Party of the United States (or CPUSA) also ridiculed the program on the cover of the October 1933 issue of their Labor Defender magazine by filling in a hollow version of the eagle with photomontages of starving people and policemen and soldiers repressing striking laborers.

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The Right were no more sympathetic than the Left in their reaction to the NRA or AAA, especially in the run-up to the 1936 elections. Political cartoons drawn by Will H. Chandler and Alden Turner were published in Mother Goose in Washington: a story of Old King Dole and His Humpty Dumpty Court. Attacking the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (or AAA), the author composed variations on popular nursery rhymes and illustrations depicting Uncle Sam as sleeping while FDR’s academics and  “brain-trusters” ran amuck destroying the nation’s corn and wheat fields.

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GIFT OF FRANCIS XAVIER LUCA AND CLARA HELENA PALACIO LUCA

Other cartoons in the book pictured President Roosevelt as a “Don Quixote” knight bearing the NRA standard, or as “Old King Dole” with a NRA eagle at the foot of his throne.

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GIFT OF FRANCIS XAVIER LUCA AND CLARA HELENA PALACIO LUCA

Yet another of Chandler and Turner’s comic barbs transforms the “blue eagle” into Cock Robin, slain by decision of the Supreme Court declaring the program unconstitutional.

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GIFT OF FRANCIS XAVIER LUCA AND CLARA HELENA PALACIO LUCA

As the end of the Depression decade approached, other critics, such as  Vaughan Shoemaker (1902-1991) began publishing editorial cartoons depicting Uncle Sam finally emerging from the mire of New Deal policies, and GOP elephants considering how best to avoid the mistakes of the past in the run-up to the 1940 elections.

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ANONYMOUS DONOR

By 1939, “reform fatigue” had set in. Five New Deal agencies were reorganized and lumped together under the auspices of a central Federal Works Agency represented by a slightly bloated looking eagle.

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GIFT OF CHRISTOPHER DENOON

But as international concerns about Japanese militarism, Fascist and Nazi aggression, and the threat of renewed world war trumped domestic issues, the New Dealer decided to rededicate the Democratic Party to the cause of making America the “arsenal of Democracy.” With many of the chronically unemployed finding work in the military-industrial complex, conservatives saw that they had a real chance to bring the New Deal to an end. The first attacks came on the Federal Art Project (FAP) and the Federal Theatre Project (FTP), which had been the least liked by conservative Republicans. Here, too, New Deal designers had created an artistic variation on the blue eagle as the brand for the program.

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THE MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR. COLLECTION

Even as conservative politicians attacked the Federal Art Project as subsidizing Leftist and Progressive liberal political propaganda, members of the American Artists Congress counter-attacked efforts to defund the programs with cartoons of their own depicting Uncle Sam and patriotic eagles coming to the defense of FAP artists.

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THE MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR. COLLECTION

In spite of their spirited defense of the FAP, the Congress did begin defunding and bringing to an end the Federal Theatre Project. Some Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographers and some FAP poster designers easily transitioned into the Office for Emergency Management, and its 1942 successor, the Office of War Information (OWI) and the Bureau of Graphics charged with mobilizing the nation for war.

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GIFT OF THE RINGLING SCHOOL OF ART AND DESIGN

~ by "The Chief" on January 18, 2014.

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