Facts about Thomas Nast
Thomas Nast Biography
Illustrator Thomas Nast was America’s first celebrity cartoonist, famous for helping to turn out New York’s corrupt politicians and for creating persistent iconographic images of Santa Claus.
Nast, from a family of German immigrants, began working in New York City as a cartoonist at the age of 15. He had a long association with Harper’s Weekly (1861-86), during which his battlefield illustrations and skilled caricatures made him famous in the U.S. and abroad (Van Gogh was a collector). Nast was an opinionated, progressive Republican, and his illustrated attacks on the leader of New York’s Democrats, William “Boss” Tweed, are said to have helped bring down an era of government corruption. One of the most influential caricaturists of his time, he is credited with creating the image of Santa as a chubby fellow in a red suit.
Thomas Nast also came up with the image of an ass to represent Democrats (around 1870) and an elephant to represent Republicans (1874). His popularity waned in the 1880s, and he parted ways with Harper’s Weekly over political and artistic differences. Failing to succeed with his own publication or as a painter, he managed to be appointed by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1902 to a diplomatic position in Ecuador, where he contracted yellow fever and died.
Now officially embraced icons, the animal symbols of the two political parties were meant by Nast to be unflattering.