Who was John Tinney McCutcheon? John T. McCutcheon was a cartoonist who rose to fame in the 1930s. Before his fame, he was a young man in the Midwest eager to explore and learn. McCutcheon was born in Tippecanoe County, Indiana on May 6, 1870.[1] He was one of two children born to John Barr McCutcheon and Clara Glick McCutcheon. Both he and his brother George Barr McCutcheon would excel in academia and creative writing. George was a novelist while John was a cartoonist. However, before realizing his call of cartooning, McCutcheon was on the path to becoming a mechanical engineer at his fathers desire. McCutcheon’s early childhood was sure to provide a foundation for the successful life of a man with large goals and a desire to seek perspective on all things.

When McCutcheon reached adulthood he was provided the opportunity to attend Purdue University. In his early studies, he realized that he was not cut out to be a numbers man and figured that courses less saturated in math would make graduating easier and his life less stressful.[2] Luckily enough, because of this decision, McCutcheon was put into an Industrial Arts course that began his relationship with creative arts and cartooning. In 1889 McCutcheon graduated from the university with a B.S. and headed straight into the workforce.  In the summer of 1889, McCutcheon went to Chicago with $17 in hand and his mind set on success. He first secured a job at the Chicago Morning News, later referred to as the Chicago Record-Herald. He worked with the Chicago Morning News until obtaining a position at the Chicago Tribune in 1903. It was at the Chicago Tribune that McCutcheon reached high levels of fame and created a name for himself as the “Dean of American Cartoonists.” 

This exhibit explores McCutcheon’s work at the Chicago Tribune at the prime of his successful career, the 1930s. In the 1930s McCutcheon’s cartoons were covering several topics from politics, to social and family life, to economics, and so forth. His ability to interpret all kinds of issues into cartoons no matter how big or small speaks volumes to the cartoonist that McCutcheon was. McCutcheon could make a comic relate to anyone and anything. The comics he created in the 1930s are an example of his artistic range and proof of his large success.

The 1930s

The 1930s were a time of uncertainty for many Americans. With the Great Depression lasting essentially the entire decade, people were consistently worried about political, social, and economic issues. In 1933, 16 million Americans were unemployed and facing the challenges of the depression. In addition to the hardships, the average citizen was filled with distrust in the American government and its ability to protect the people. As a result of this new relationship dynamic, many people were upset to read changes in governmental policies and any political updates. Newspapers were the media source to inform the public of the stock market crash of 1929, which some historians consider to be the beginning of the Great Depression. While tough times pursued, newspapers stayed consistent in their ability to inform the public. It is because of this that information on the social and economic aspects of the Great Depression was able to reach the citizens of the Nation.

Newspapers sought to enlighten the public on issues pertaining to administrative programs and the future of the federal government’s role in economics. In addition to the depression, there was an unknown war approaching on the horizon, World War II. While the newspapers were not reporting on the possibility of a second world war, they were approaching global political issues and responding. Cartoonists such as John T. McCutcheon were additions to this reporting by providing context to events in a simple image. McCutcheon’s artistry made topics more approachable and inspired readers to look at not just local issues but national and global issues. While McCutcheon was not responsible for writing informative entries, his cartoons surely played a significant role in bringing forth the importance of issues, making the public smile during tough times, and covering a wide array of topics.

[1] “McCutcheon, John T. (John Tinney), 1870-1949.” Purdue University,

[2] McCutcheon, John T. Drawn from Memory: Containing Many of the Author's Famous Cartoons and Sketches. Kessinger Publ., 1950.