Thomas E. Powers, 69, political and satirical cartoonist for the Hearst newspapers for nearly 40 years until his retirement in 1937, died Aug. 14 at his home in Long Beach, Long Island, N. Y., after a long illness. His wife, Mrs. Louise H. Powers, two brothers and a sister survive.
Mr. Powers’ political cartoons had a wide following and two elflike characters, “Joy” and “Gloom,” with which he enlivened his drawings-always signed “T. E. Powers”-became one of the trademarks of his work during a career which made him one of the country’s best known and most successful cartoonists.
Favorite of Presidents
A favorite cartoonist of the late President Theodore Roosevelt, his work attracted the attention of other Presidents, and the late Calvin Coolidge was so amused by one caricature of himself that he asked the cartoonist for the original. That letter, on White House stationery, was one of Mr. Powers’ most cherished mementos.
Mr. Powers first attracted the attention of Theodore Roosevelt when he pictured the President threatening tall, silk-hatted figures labeled “The Trusts” with the then famous “big stick.” His satirical thrusts at “grafting politicians” or others whose right to public office he challenged, however, usually were tempered with broad humor.
The veteran penman’s cartoon series, syndicated to Hearst papers in many states, included “Mrs. Trubble,” “Never Again,” “The Down-and-Out Club,” “Sam the Drummer,” “Married Life From the Inside” and “Charlie and George.”
The veteran cartoonist retired two years ago because of illness, though up until last September he turned out an occasional drawing at home. Since early this year he had been confined to bed or a wheel chair. On Saturday he took a turn for the worse. His butler found him dead early Monday.
Using a relatively simple line drawing technique, which looked easy to duplicate but was not, Mr. Powers had a gift for caricature. His pungent comment in pen and ink drawings on the fads and foibles of the day enlivened the editorial pages of Hearst newspapers from coast-to-coast. Possessor of a keen wit and a sage philosophy, he had the ability to transfer these qualities into a biting picture editorial with a few sure, quick strokes of the pen.
Mr. Powers was born in Milwaukee on July 4, 1870. He moved to Kansas City, where he was educated in public schools and got his start working for a lithographer at $2 a week. In 1906, after his cartoons had attracted nation-wide notice, he gave an Editor & Publisher interviewer the following account of his youth:
“I was born in Milwaukee . . . but before I was old enough to appreciate the product on which the ‘fame’ of that fair city rests, my ‘cruel’ parents dragged me away to Kansas City. I had to stay in the latter place until I could earn enough money to make a ‘get away.’
“I began to draw pictures at a very early age. One of my first efforts was a portrait of my teacher sketched on the schoolroom blackboard. I was too modest to sign the picture but the teacher discovered its author and I received my reward.
“When I was about 17 years of age I went to work for a lithographer who estimated that I was well worth $2 a week. I also received a goodly amount of advice on the subject of saving money. But, in spite of all he said, I squandered my money, with carelessness, recklessness, and negligence.
“My employer said that I would never be able to draw. I was offended and resigned. My first newspaper work was in Chicago on Victor Lawson’s Daily News. I brought in some sketches and submitted them to Lawson, who accepted them and offered me a permanent position.”
Mr. Powers later worked for the old Chicago Herald and in 1894 was offered a job in New York with the Evening World, after the late Arthur Brisbane had seen and liked his work. When Mr. Brisbane entered the Hearst service in 1896, Mr. Powers transferred with him to the old New York Evening Journal.
The characters “Joy” and “Gloom” which he used so often, cavorted in the corners of his cartoon. If optimism was in order, “Joy” chased “Gloom,” and vice versa. “Gloom” was a mournful imp with a black beard, and “Joy” wore an eternal grin.
Mr. Powers also drew “John Q. Taxpayer,” stripped down to a barrel.
For many years Mr. Powers had owned a farm near Norwalk, Conn., but since his illness became serious, he had not visited the place. He once wrote: “My favorite recreation is farming.”
Note from Allan: not mentioned in this obit is Powers’ distinction as the first American to draw a newspaper color comic strip.