Thomas Nast (1840-1902) is one of the most famous and most important American cartoonists. Born in Germany, he came to the US when he was four. He wasn’t much of a student, but was quite good at drawing and sketching.
He started working for New York’s Harper’s Weekly just as the Civil War began. Harper’s was widely read and extremely influential, so Nast’s drawings and cartoons reached a very wide audience. Print technology then did not reproduce photographs very well, so line drawings were important. Nast excelled at them.
Nast worked for Harper’s for twenty-five years. Each of those twenty=five years he drew the cover for the Christmas issue. The Christmas cover Santa Claus drawings became a huge hit, and went viral. Nast’s drawings have become the standard portrait of Santa.
That’s not all Nast did. His cartoons helped destroy the notorious Boss Tweed Ring that ran New York City, one of the most corrupt political regimes in US history. Nast is also the person who came up with the elephant as symbol of the Republican Party. And while he did not create it, Nast popularized the donkey that now symbolizes the Democrats. Not bad for one cartoonist.