Frederick Earl Johnston was born in New Castle, Pennsylvania on June 8, 1874. His birth place was determined by comparing the 1870 and 1880 U.S. Federal Censuses, which showed the Johnston family in New Castle. His birthdate was on his World War I draft card. In the census, he was the youngest of two children born to Levi and Laura. His father’s occupation was “photograph artist”. (In the 1870 census it was painter.) They lived on South Mill Street. Information on his education and art training has not been found.
A family tree at Ancestry.com has an 1896 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania newspaper clipping about his upcoming marriage, on September 24, to May Schaum of Middlesboro, Kentucky. He was referred to as “…the well-known newspaper artist of this city…” and identified as “…the son of L.W. Johnston, the well-known artist of New Castle….” After the honeymoon they would reside on Ophelia Street in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
He has not been found in the 1900 census, but was listed as an artist, in the 1904 Pittsburgh City Directory, at 431 5th Avenue and resided at 5810 Holden. The Pittsburgh Press, March 10, 1904, noted his participation in a benefit for a church: “…Frederick Earl Johnston, the cartoonist, will give his well-known chalk talk…” Two months later, The Book of the Royal Blue, May 1904, published his drawing. Johnston’s book, Pittsburghers Cartooned, was published in 1909.
The 1910 census recorded him, his wife and 11-year-old son, Earl, in Pittsburgh at 5810 Holden Street. His occupation was newspaper cartoonist. According to American Newspaper Comics (2012), he produced the adventure comic strip, Bobby the Boy Scout, which ran in the Pittsburgh Leader from August 21, 1911 to November 21, 1917. Holtz considers this the first serious adventure comic strip (Hogan’s Alley #10). Two of his drawings were included in T.R. in Cartoon (1910).
In 1915 he produced an animated film, “The Wizard-Blackson Fight…an animated production of the Jess Willard-Jack Johnson boxing match…”, according to the Library of Congress Information Bulletin, Volume 56, Issue 16, 1997. The Catalogue of Copyright Entries, Part 4, Works of Art; etc. 1915, New Series, Volume 10, Number 2, had this entry in the section, “List of Motion Pictures”:
Felber (J. B) & Johnston (Fred E.) Pittsburgh. [14089
Wizard-Blackson fight. 11 prints 5 by 7 inches. © title and description recd. May 13, 1915; 11 prints recd. May 22, 1915; M 343.
The cartoon was included in the filmography of Fight Pictures: A History of Boxing and Early Cinema (2008): “Wizard-Blackson Fight, A Cartoon Comedy by Fred E. Johnston,* May 1915, J.B. Felber, Fort Pitt Film Co.”
On September 12, 1918 he signed his World War I draft card. His address was the same. He was a cartoonist employed by Alex P. Moore, Leader Publishing Company, 431 5th Avenue, Pittsburgh.
According to the family tree Johnston passed away at work, February 28, 1919. An obituary has not been found. His son, Earl, followed in his footsteps and will be profiled in tomorrow’s post.