Dec 12, 2014 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
A fan of the Daily Show? Like Mad Magazine or the New Yorker? Puck paved the way for all these well-known institutions. Find out how a cartoonist born in Austria, and working in St. Louis, went on to establish a magazine credited with winning Grover Cleveland the White House in 1884. Like all investigations into the history books, the story is never as simple as it seems…
Puck was founded by Joseph Ferdinand Keppler in 1871. Published in both English and German, its weekly, 32 page magazines were filled to the brim with bold comics, stories, and amazingly colorful lithographs. In fact, Puck was the first magazine to embrace color lithography for a weekly publication. That mixture of novelty, flashy ads, and tongue-in-cheek (yet hard-hitting) political analysis proved addictive to their readers. By 1884, the circulation numbered in the 125,000 range.
Keppler found inspiration in the humor magazines from Austria and Italy, which gave Puck its unique voice and aesthetic. Most credit it with changing the way Americans looked at political humor. Both the magazine and the talented cartoonists they employed championed democracy, equality, and reformation. No political target or public figure was safe from the gaze of Puck. Their technique was effective as Puck earned the honor of being the first successful humor magazine in the United States.
Leading the way, on every cover, was an impish Puck (taken from the classic Midsummer Night’s Dream) declaring the motto: “What fools these mortals be!” As the years progressed, the magazine faced a series of editorial changes and was eventually bought by William Randolph Hearst in 1916. Sadly, Puck was so good at elevating the level of discourse, rivals were waiting in the wings. Judge took over as the leading humor magazine and, by 1918 , the publication ceased.
For our readers: Do you think our current tone of political humor does Puck justice?