Udo Keppler’s often overshadowed by his father, the seminal satirical cartoonist and PUCK founder Joseph Keppler. And perhaps Udo was self-conscious of this patriarchal eclipse: the younger Keppler changed his name to Joseph after the elder died. But Udo K. had no reason to be anxious about his own work, nor about his legacy: he was known in his day and is remembered today as one of the most incisive, biting commentators in American history.
Best known for his anthropomorphism of Standard Oil as an earth-strangling octopus, Keppler’s work extolled all sorts of progressive social and political matters, like fighting for the little guy, while taking on anti-American but all-too-persistance stances like xenophobia and jingoism. Yet for all his progressivism on certain issues, Keppler’s politics weren’t completely black and white, as seen in the above 1903 cartoon that appears to encourage labor lock outs and the one below, an 1894 image that shows Catholic Cardinal and Vatican diplomat Francesco Satolli casting a menacing shadow across the States.
Regardless of such narrow thinking on these subjects, most of Keppler’s work leaned left, and I’ve included nine more resonant images BELOW.
(And for more “Found in the LOC,” click HERE.)
1. The skeleton in Uncle Sam’s closet has a cap feather reading “lynchings.” This image, drawn in 1903, as Americans were decrying atrocious crackdowns in Russia, was especially powerful because of the growing trend of “lynching postcards,” photographic correspondence bragging about such-and-such a town’s vigilante justice, often with the victim hanging lifelessly behind grinning white folk. And, with so much racial inequality around today, it is still relevant, sadly.
2. Another deployment of octopi imagery, this 1908 image depicts the sea creature as “special privilege” with tentacles labeled “Rail Road Greed,” “Grafting Public Utilities,” “Venal Press,” “Graft Tariff,” “Predatory Trusts,” “Bribed Legislatures,” “Stock Juggling,” and “Public Land Thieves.” It’s ink also includes the alarmist quotes like”Don’t Hurt Business” and “Don’t Alarm Capital.”
3. Here Keppler depicts the common man as a snowball in the hell called Wall Street, another dig against big business.
4. Like Americans today, Keppler worried about the dearth of living wages in America. He depicts such pay as a life raft saving struggling citizens from disease, prostitution and death. It’s a bit dramatic, but effective!
5. Along the same lines, here Keppler turns his pen against tenement housing: squalid, overpacked apartments where unpaid laborers were forced to squat as they tried to make it in America.
6. Though he would at times illustrate against labor, as seen in the above lock out image, Keppler was for the most part supportive of balance between workers and bosses, as seen in this 1901 image of the opposing sides perfectly balanced by Uncle Sam.
7. Keppler’s complex take on labor and business relations is on display in this 1903 image of both parties trampling liberty as Theodore Roosevelt plays referee.
8. Obviously a big fan of free press, Keppler here depicts Pennsylvania Gov. Samuel W. Pennypacker trying — and failing — to suppress the media’s criticism of Senator and local party boss Matthew S. Quay.
9. As a reaction to anti-immigrant sentiment, specifically the “Act to Prevent the Country from being Overrun by Foreigners,” Keppler created this image, 1898’s “Where Would We Be?” It shows an American Indian beating back xenophobic congressman Henry Cabot Lodge.
10. Keppler was also a staunch believer in racial equality, as seen here in this image of Teddy R. treating a black man with dignity as Abraham Lincoln looks on; it’s entitled “Justice versus Prejudice.”
11. Finally, here’s Uncle Sam receiving valentines from England, Germany and Russia. The cards read, “Assistance and Sympathy during the Spanish-American War,” and the cartoon itself a 1902 commentary on the nation’s new found status as a world leader. As our current president threatens our century-long status as global peace keeper and friend, let’s all remind ourselves — and our representatives in Congress – that the United States has a mission, one moral and material: to lead by example. Helping others isn’t weak; it’s one of the strongest, bravest things people can do in an increasingly apathetic society.
For more Udo Keppler, check out the Library of Congress‘ extensive archive.