Beautiful New York

A Celebration of the City

The Top 100 Greatest New Yorkers — #32

Thomas Nast (1840 – 1902)


How does a German immigrant child with a poor academic record and a passion for drawing grow up to profoundly influence every presidential election from 1864 – 1884? By becoming the most impactful political cartoonist in the history of American journalism. Thomas Nast’s first drawings for Harper’s Weekly appeared when he was 18 years old in an article about police corruption. This was the first of his many connections to social reform. During the Civil War, Nast created the modern image of Santa Claus and the symbol of the elephant for the Republican Party. Later, he became most famous for his successful campaign against Tammany Hall graft and the downfall of Boss Tweed, who was arrested in exile by a police officer who recognized him from a Nast cartoon. For nearly half a century, the Thomas Nast Award and Thomas Nast Prize for cartoons has been awarded by the Overseas Press Club and the Thomas Nast Foundation respectively. For all this legacy, there is no truth to the popular misconception that his name was the origin for the word “nasty”, which predates his birth by 100 years.


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