Homer Davenport — Cartoonist

from The American Review of Reviews, Volume 45, 1912, pp 686-688.

Homer DavenportWith the death of Homer Calvin Davenport last month, the work of one of America’s foremost political cartoonists was brought to a sudden end. And powerful work it had been, especially in the field of politics and industrial reform. Few cartoonists had attained such great fame, or dealt stronger blows than Davenport. Although his work covered a wide range of subjects, it was his political cartoons for which he was best known. His original creations of the Trust figure — brutal and burly — and the dollar-marked suit of Senator Hanna, have been accepted as distinct additions to the symbolic stock-in-trade of his craft.

Davenport himself witnessed an illustration of the fame of some of his work. While waiting in Senator Hanna’s ante-room for an interview one day, there came in an old colored preacher. As soon as the Senator showed himself, the preacher exclaimed: “Why, Marse Hanna, I knowed you right away. I would a-knowed you anywhere.” “Why, how is that,” said Mr. Hanna, “I’ve never met you.” “Well, you see, Marse Hanna, I knowed you from your pictures in the papers—the ones Mr. Davenport draws.” Davenport was sitting close by, so the Senator couldn’t help but smile, although it is not on record that he relished the portrait of himself which Davenport had made familiar to millions of Americans all over the country.

Davenport’s “Uncle Sam” was one of the best produced by any cartoonist. He usually pictured him as a dignified and serious gentleman, shrewd of face and spare in form, clad, of course, in the traditional tricolor, but, emerging as a rule only in great crises, scenting trouble on the international horizon perhaps, and reaching out for his old flintlock, or bowed with grief over some tragic event of national interest.

While much of Davenport’s work was not without humor, his strongest and most characteristic work were his serious cartoons, which partook of the nature of the stern religious reformer for whom he was named. A good deal of this quality undoubtedly came to him through being brought into early association with the work of Nast, whose powerful cartoons in Harper’s Weekly penetrated the Oregon backwoods where Davenport was born. These cartoons made such an impression in the Davenport home that the mother set her heart on having her son become a great cartoonist.

Davenport began to draw very early in life, but never took any lessons in the art. In fact he got little or no schooling of any kind. This lack of technical training was at times apparent in his work, but it did not to any extent mar the satirical power of his political work. The chief qualities of his cartoons were simplicity and force. If the drawing sometimes seemed crude, the idea was always apparent and the effect strong.

Although his first efforts in newspaper work were neither brilliant nor successful, Davenport’s subsequent rise to fame was rapid. Like many another American farm boy, his earliest ambitions led him in the direction of the sawdust ring; but his circus career was brief and inglorious. His first newspaper job was on the Portland Oregonian, from which he separated suddenly—the story goes—because his drawing of a stove for an advertisement was far from satisfactory.

After drifting about somewhat, now on the San Francisco Examiner, then on the Chronicle, and doing other miscellaneous work, he was discovered by Mr. Hearst and brought to New York in 1895 to draw for the Evening Journal as one of the highest paid men in the profession. Here his powerful work attracted wide attention and he quickly achieved national fame. Mr. Davenport remained with the Journal during the silver-and-gold campaign of 1896, the Spanish War of 1898, and the second McKinley campaign of 1900. In all of these important periods he and his pencil were in the very forefront of the molders of public opinion. In the campaigns of 1904 and 1908 he was with the New York Evening Mail. It was in the Roosevelt campaign of 1904 that Davenport drew the famous “He’s good enough for me” cartoon of which millions of copies were circulated.

Davenport spent a good deal of time traveling in Europe, and on one of his trips he attended the Dreyfus trial, sketching the principal characters. He also visited England and caricatured some of the prominent statesmen there, including Gladstone, Sir William Harcourt, Balfour, and others. Recently he had gone back to the Hearst forces, and was engaged on the New York American. His last cartoon, and the one which probably cost him his life, was on the Titanic disaster. He had gone down to the dock the night the Carpathia was due and there caught a cold, which turned into pneumonia and resulted in his death.

Born in the little town of Silverton, Oregon, in 1867, Davenport was forty-five years of age at the time of his death. Besides his cartoon work, he had also written several books, among which were “The Diary of a Country Boy,” “The Bell of Silverton and Other Stories of Oregon,” and “The Dollar or the Man.” He occasionally lectured on the influence and work of the cartoonist. Davenport was very fond of country life and a great lover of animals. On his stock farm in New Jersey he raised fancy poultry and bred horses and other animals. In 1906, he visited Arabia and brought over, with the Sultan’s especial permission, a string of twenty-seven Arabian horses, said to be the only genuine horses of this type in America. Had Mr. Davenport lived, he would undoubtedly have given us some brilliant work during the coming Presidential campaign. His death removed a potent force in American journalism, and a most picturesque and popular member of his craft.