Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Hy Mayer

Henry “Hy” Mayer was born in Worms-on-Rhine, Germany, on July 18, 1868, according to passport applications and profiles in several books. The American Jewish Year Book, Volume 6 (1904), said Mayer’s parents were Hermann Mayer, Sr., and Helene Loeb.

Who’s Who in America (1908) said Mayer was educated “in England and Germany” where he graduated from the Gymnasium, Worms, in 1886. He “entered business life in England” and came to the U.S., through Mexico and Texas, in 1886. However, Who’s Who in New York City and State (1907) said Mayer “went to Mexico in 1885”. The Jewish Encyclopedia said “In 1885 he went to Mexico, and subsequently to Texas. There he discovered his ability to draw, and developed his talent without the aid of a teacher. Mayer next went to Cincinnati and thence to Chicago, where he began his career as caricaturist and illustrator.” Information at said Mayer arrived in New York on August 31, 1885. He was aboard the Cunard steamship Servia from Liverpool, England.

Mayer was naturalized on August 30, 1890 in Chicago, Illinois. 
Mayer was profiled in Godey’s Magazine, January 1897. Mayer’s whereabouts were described as follows: 

…Mr. Mayer graduated from the Gymnasium at Worms at the age of sixteen. he went from there to England and held a clerkship in a broker’s office. Finding little suited to his taste, he came over seas to Cincinnati and drew for a comic paper there, called Sam the Scaramouch, which went the way of most comic papers, good and bad, into the sardine-packed limbo of “discontinued” publications. Thence Mr. Mayer went to Mexico and soon to Texas, where he became a clerk again, this time in a general store, where, as he catalogues it, he “sold coal-oil, beer, ‘pants,’ molasses, rails, and other household furnishing.”

Chicago next called him, by way of Cincinnati, and he drew for another ephemerid  Light, and for various newspapers…

According to Mayer’s 1920 passport application, he resided in “El Paso, Chicago, Cincinnati & New York” and “was naturalized as a citizen of the U.S. before the Superior Court of Cook County at Chicago, Illinois, on the 30th day of August, 1890”.

Mayer’s first passport was issued September 1, 1890. On the application, Chicago resident Mayer said he was an artist and journalist. Mayer picked up his passport in New York City. Mayer lived in Chicago when he received his a passport on August 14, 1893. Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in New York City and State said Mayer resided in New York City beginning in 1893.

Mayer’s home in New York City was 53 Wast 59th Street when the illustrator obtained a passport on February 26, 1896. 

The Columbian (Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania), January 14, 1897, reported the upcoming debut of “The Sunday Press Jester” by the Philadelphia Press newspaper. Mayer produced a color cartoon for the front page.

The New York Evening Telegram, April 7, 1897, reviewed Mayer’s gallery show.

Mr. Henry Mayer is also, in a way, a student of Americanism. His drawings now on exhibition at Keppel’s gallery, in East Sixteenth street, seldom fail, whether consciously or unconsciously, to preserve the traces of at least one parent race in his most characteristically American skits.

But Mr. Mayer is a humorist, a caricaturist sometimes, with a wonderful facility of ludicrous invention, and at times a feeling for character and a skill in its delineation that almost suggests Forain’s acrid ironies. At other times his humor has a Rabelaisian touch.

The present exhibition of Mr. Mayer’s work covers a number of years and is made up chiefly of designs that have first made their appearance in the various comic weeklies. Several of them have been seen in the Evening Telegram. In the greater number of instances they seem to have lost nothing by reduction, but even one who has followed Mr. Mayer’s work through the humorous publications of the day can gain an increased regard for his attainments in his particular field by the massing of his work in a single gallery.

The exhibition was also reviewed in the New York Sun.

A month later, Mayer received a passport. The Manhattanite’s address was 55 West 59th Street.

The Chicago Tribune, June 14, 1899, reported that Mayer, artist Albert B. Wenzell and another American were attacked the previous evening in Paris by a group of Nationalists. The trio refused to shout “Vive l’Armee” as demand by the Nationalists. Mayer was knocked to the ground by a walking stick. The Americans and a Nationalist were arrested. The Americans were released when they threatened to demand help from Ambassador Porter. 

Who’s Who in America said Mayer contributed illustrations to Fliegende Blaetter (Munich), Figaro IllustreLe Rire (Paris), Black and WhitePick-Me-UpPall-MallPunch (London), LifeJudge and TruthHarper’sCenturyCollier’sLeslie’s, the New York Times, and New York Herald.

The Critic, October 1900, published five caricatures by Mayer.

American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Mayer produced several comic series in the early 1900s. For the New York World, Mayer drew The Plunk FamilyBrother and I and Sandman, and one Charley Hist the Detective. World Color Printing distributed Mayer’s Professor Presto, Master of MagicBobbie Binks, and Main Street. Mayer contributed two short series to the New York HeraldZoological Kindergarten and Will O’ Dreams and the Sandman. The McClure Syndicate handled Mayer’s Adventures of a Japanese Doll.

Mayer’s books include The Autobiography of a Monkey (1897), In Laughland (1899), Fantasies in Ha! Ha! (1900), A Trip to Toyland (1900), Adventures of a Japanese Doll (1901), and Alphabet of Little People (1901). 

Mayer’s work was examined in Brush and Pencil, June 1901, and The New Era, February 1904.

Mayer produced 100 drawings for Rupert Hughes’ 1904 book The Real New York

The 1904 American Jewish Year Book listed Mayer’s address as 30 West 24th, New York.

Mayer was in the American Art Annual, Volume 6 (1908): “Mayer, Henry (‘Hy Mayer’), 55 West 33d St., New York, NY (I.[llustrator]) Born Worms-on-Rhine, Germany, July 18, 1868. Specialty, cartoons.”

In the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, self-employed illustrator Mayer resided in Manhattan at 55 West 33rd Street. 

In 1913 Mayer played vaudeville and was on the first bill at the Palace Theatre.

According to Who’s Who in Animated Cartoons (2006), Mayer went into animation in 1913. His assistant was Otto Messmer. However, in Biographical Sketches of Cartoonists & Illustrators in the Swann Collection of the Library of Congress, Sara Duke wrote “Credit goes to Mayer as the innovator of the ‘hand in motion’ drawing technique, by which cartoons are drafted under the eye of a camera. An active practitioner in the field of animation, he produced over fifty Travelaughs and drew Animated Weekly shorts (1909–16).”

Moving Picture World, 10/13/1917

Mayer’s appreciation of Phil May appeared Munsey’s Magazine, January 1914.

During World War I, Mayer sold Liberty BondsOne of his animated cartoons was sent to overseas allies.

A profile and photograph of Mayer was printed in the Great Falls Daily Tribune (Montana), August 29, 1920.

Exhibitors Trade Review, February 25, 1922, reported the transfer of distribution rights to Mayer’s Travelaughs.

Exhibitors Trade Review, 2/25/1922

World Biography, Volume 2 (1948) said Mayer married Alice McKenna in January 1924. On May 30, 1924, Mayer and his wife Alice returned from a trip to Europe. Mayer’s address on the passenger list was The Lambs, 130 West 44th Street, New York, New York. 
According to the 1930 census, Mayer was 55 years old when he married Alice. The following year Mayer, his wife and stepson John visited Europe. They departed Bremen, Germany and arrived in New York November 20, 1925. The same address was recorded for this trip and another in 1927.

A 1928 passenger list said Mayer lived in South Norwalk, Connecticut at 300 Flax Hill Road which was the same address in the 1930 census. Passenger lists and the census listed Mayer’s stepson with the Mayer surname.

The 1940 census recorded retired illustrator Mayer and his 45-year-old wife at the same location in South Norwalk. Mayer’s stepson was recorded as Jack McKenna, a laundry truck driver, who was married with one child and resided in Norwalk at a different address.

The 1950 census counted 81-year-old Mayer and his wife at Flax Hill Road in Norwalk, Connecticut. He was a self-employed artist and painter. 

Mayer passed away September 27, 1954, at his home in South Norwalk. His death was reported the following day in The New York Times and Meriden Record

(An earlier version was posted in 2017.)

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