*** American biographies: Thomas Nast

Thomas Nast (1840-1902)

Figure 1.--This Nast illustration shows Santa Clause visiting a Union military camp to pass out Christmas presents to the soldiers and the drummer boys. Notice Santa is done up in a patriotic flag outfit. Look closely at the puppet Santa is holding. You have to look closely to see the effigy of Conederate President Jefferson Davis. One of the drummer boys is holding a strange Jack in the box. This was drawn by Nast in December 1863. On the surface we see a nice Santa with children adding to the picture but perhaps there is more. Santa is shown holding a 'toy' -- the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, with a noose around his neck. Nast had an uncanny ability to introduce politics into supposedly tranquil scenes. There are historians who say that this image may be the very first one depicting Santa. Put your cursor on the image for a closer view of Jeff Davis and Santa. At the time there was the Winter lull in the fighting. Gen. Grant would take command (March 1864), setting up the showdown beween him and Gen. Lee .

The modern image of Santa Claus began to appear during the American Civil War. And with advances in lithography, it was an illustrator and not an author who played a major role. It was created by famed Amerian political cartoonist Thomas Nast. He is often described as the 'Father of the American Cartoon'. One of Nast's projects was to do an annual Christmas cartoon for Harper's Weekly, one of the most important American publications at the time. The first Nast Christmas cartoon appeared in 1863 and he continued doing them until 1886. Santa first appeared as an ugly elf. He gradually evolved into the pot-bellied, full beared character known by every American child today. Nast helped create the Santa tradition by explaining that he spent the entire year making toys with his elves at the North Pole. Other traditions such as checking on how children were behaving, keeping lists of who has been naughty and nice, and receiving Christmas lists all emerged from Nast's cartoons. Nast was born in Landau, Bavaria--Germany (1840) and emigrated to America as a young boy. He first became known to the American public for his Santa Clause cartoons and Civil War illustrations which were published by Harpers as wood cuts. He had alove for American Democracy and a hatred for slavery. President Lincoln coln called Nast “Our Best recruiting sergeant”. He is best known as opponent of political graft after the War when he attacked Boss Tweed and Tamaney Hall in New York City. He died in Guayaquil, Ecuador (1902). We have archived several Nast illustrayions on our ebsite: including Union POWs being mistrated (1863)..


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Created: 11:02 PM 8/24/2023
Last updated: 11:02 PM 8/24/2023