Theodore Roosevelt Cartoons

Theodore Roosevelt was one of America’s most dynamic and influential presidents. His larger-than-life persona, bold policies, and charismatic leadership made him a favorite subject for political cartoonists of his time. Through their eyes, we see a different side of Roosevelt—a side marked by satire, humor, and sharp critique.

Political cartoons were a powerful form of social commentary in the early 20th century. They captured the public’s imagination and played a significant role in shaping opinions. Cartoonists turned Roosevelt into an iconic figure, immortalizing his actions and decisions in their art. This article explores how these cartoons depicted Roosevelt, revealing both his strengths and his flaws.

The Role of Political Cartoons in Early 20th Century America

Political caricature: 'Go Away, Little Man, and Don't Bother Me'. American cartoon, c1903, by Charles Green Bush from the New York World, of President Theodore Roosevelt intimidating Colombia to acquire the Panama Canal Zone

Political cartoons played a crucial role in early 20th century America. More than entertainment, they were also a powerful tool for social commentary and political discourse.

Political Cartoons as Social Commentary

Political cartoons served as a unique form of social commentary. They used humor, satire, and exaggeration to highlight political issues, critique leaders, and reflect public sentiment. By simplifying complex issues into a single, impactful image, cartoons made politics accessible to a broader audience. They often conveyed messages that written articles could not, using visual metaphors and symbolism to make powerful statements.

Popularity and Influence in Roosevelt’s Era

During Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, political cartoons were immensely popular and influential. They were a staple in newspapers and magazines, enjoyed by readers across the social spectrum. These cartoons shaped public perceptions of Roosevelt, showcasing his policies and personality in a memorable and often exaggerated manner.

  • Accessibility: Cartoons can be understood at a glance, making them accessible to people of all literacy levels.
  • Impact: The visual nature of cartoons meant they could leave a lasting impression, often more so than written articles.
  • Engagement: Readers eagerly anticipated new cartoons, discussing and sharing them widely, which amplified their influence.

Major Publications Featuring Roosevelt Cartoons

Several major publications were known for their political cartoons during Roosevelt’s time. These publications played a significant role in popularizing the cartoons and ensuring they reached a wide audience.

  • Puck: One of the most influential humor magazines, Puck was renowned for its colorful and detailed cartoons. It frequently featured Roosevelt, often portraying him in humorous and exaggerated ways.
  • Judge: Another key publication, Judge, was known for its satirical take on politics. It offered sharp and insightful cartoons that captured the essence of Roosevelt’s policies and actions.
  • Harper’s Weekly: This magazine was a major platform for political commentary, including cartoons. It provided a space for cartoonists to express their views on Roosevelt and the political climate of the time.

Common Themes and Subjects in Roosevelt Cartoons

1905 editorial cartoon honoring your Roosevelt as the man of the hour, first in war and first in peace

Political cartoons featuring Theodore Roosevelt often revolved around specific themes and subjects that highlighted his public persona and key policies. These cartoons captured his distinctive character, his bold initiatives, and the significant events of his presidency.

Roosevelt’s Public Persona

Theodore Roosevelt was known for his energetic and robust personality. Cartoonists frequently depicted him as a vigorous and dynamic leader, often exaggerating his physicality and determination. This portrayal reinforced his image as a man of action, always ready to tackle challenges head-on.

  • The Rough Rider: Roosevelt’s image as a Rough Rider, stemming from his leadership of the cavalry regiment during the Spanish-American War, was a recurring motif. Cartoons often showed him in military uniform, symbolizing his bravery and adventurous spirit.
  • The Trust Buster: Another common depiction was Roosevelt as the “Trust Buster,” emphasizing his efforts to break up monopolies and regulate big businesses. Cartoons portrayed him wielding a big stick or axe, symbolizing his aggressive approach to reform.

Common Themes

Political cartoons about Roosevelt often focused on three major themes: his conservation efforts, military prowess, and trust-busting initiatives. These themes reflected his key priorities and the significant impact of his policies.

  • Conservation Efforts: Roosevelt’s commitment to conservation was a prominent theme. Cartoons depicted him as a steward of the environment, often showing him protecting forests and wildlife. This theme underscored his role in establishing national parks and advocating for natural resource conservation.
  • Military Prowess: Roosevelt’s strong stance on military issues was another frequent subject. Cartoons highlighted his emphasis on building a powerful navy and his philosophy of “speak softly and carry a big stick.” These illustrations often showed him in naval attire or commanding a fleet, emphasizing his belief in military strength as a means of ensuring peace.
  • Trust-Busting: Roosevelt’s efforts to curb the power of large corporations were a central theme in many cartoons. Illustrators depicted him as a giant killer or a relentless enforcer, taking on greedy magnates and dismantling monopolies. This imagery reinforced his reputation as a champion of the common people against corporate excess.

Key Events and Policies Highlighted

Political cartoons also focused on specific events and policies during Roosevelt’s presidency, using these moments to comment on his leadership and decisions.

  • The Panama Canal: The construction of the Panama Canal was a significant achievement of Roosevelt’s administration. Cartoons often showed him digging or overseeing the canal’s progress, symbolizing his determination to enhance American trade and military capabilities.
  • The Square Deal: Roosevelt’s domestic policy, known as the Square Deal, aimed at providing fair opportunities for all Americans. Cartoons depicted him balancing scales of justice or offering a helping hand to the working class, illustrating his commitment to social and economic reform.
  • The Great White Fleet: Roosevelt’s decision to send the Great White Fleet on a world tour was another key event highlighted in cartoons. These illustrations showed him proudly presenting the fleet as a symbol of American naval power and international influence.

Prominent Cartoonists Who Illustrated Roosevelt

1910 cartoon showing Roosevelt's many roles from 1899 to 1910

Several notable cartoonists played a significant role in shaping the public’s perception of Theodore Roosevelt through their illustrations. Their unique styles and creative depictions brought Roosevelt’s personality and policies to life, leaving a lasting impact on American political culture.

Profiles of Notable Cartoonists

Thomas Nast

  • Background: Thomas Nast is often considered the father of American political cartooning. Though his peak was during the Civil War and Reconstruction, his influence extended into the early 20th century.
  • Style: Nast was known for his detailed and realistic drawings, using strong imagery to convey his messages. His work was characterized by sharp lines and intricate details.
  • Depictions of Roosevelt: While Nast’s direct illustrations of Roosevelt were limited, his pioneering techniques influenced later cartoonists who depicted the president.

Clifford Berryman

  • Background: Clifford Berryman was a prolific cartoonist for the Washington Post and later the Evening Star. He is best known for his iconic “Remember the Maine” cartoon and the creation of the “Teddy Bear” in reference to Roosevelt.
  • Style: Berryman’s style was characterized by its simplicity and clarity. He used bold lines and minimal shading, making his cartoons easily recognizable and impactful.
  • Depictions of Roosevelt: Berryman often depicted Roosevelt as a larger-than-life figure, emphasizing his dynamic personality and political vigor. His cartoons frequently portrayed Roosevelt engaging in various activities, from hunting to trust-busting.

Homer Davenport

  • Background: Homer Davenport was a leading cartoonist for William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal. He gained fame for his critical cartoons during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • Style: Davenport’s cartoons were known for their bold and exaggerated features. He used heavy lines and stark contrasts to create striking images.
  • Depictions of Roosevelt: Davenport often portrayed Roosevelt as a heroic and reformist figure, highlighting his efforts against corruption and his progressive policies. His cartoons celebrated Roosevelt’s assertiveness and leadership.

Their Unique Styles and How They Portrayed Roosevelt

Each cartoonist brought their distinct style to their depictions of Theodore Roosevelt, capturing different aspects of his character and presidency.

  • Thomas Nast: Nast’s influence was evident in the detailed and symbolic approach of later cartoonists. His style set a standard for using imagery to convey complex political messages.
  • Clifford Berryman: Berryman’s clean and straightforward style made his cartoons easily digestible. He often used humor and wit to soften his portrayals, making Roosevelt appear approachable and relatable.
  • Homer Davenport: Davenport’s bold and exaggerated style emphasized Roosevelt’s larger-than-life persona. His cartoons often depicted Roosevelt as a fearless and determined leader, reinforcing his public image as a strong and decisive president.

Noteworthy Cartoons and Their Impact on Public Perception

  • “Drawing the Line in Mississippi” by Clifford Berryman: This cartoon famously led to the creation of the “Teddy Bear.” It depicted Roosevelt refusing to shoot a tied-up bear cub, highlighting his compassion and sense of fair play

The Lasting Legacy of Roosevelt Cartoons

Punch in May 1912 depicts no-holds-barred fight between Taft and Roosevelt

Political cartoons of Theodore Roosevelt have left a lasting legacy, significantly influencing how he is perceived today. These cartoons played a vital role in shaping historical narratives and continue to underscore the relevance of political satire in contemporary media.

Influence on Modern Perceptions of Roosevelt

The cartoons from Roosevelt’s era have greatly impacted modern perceptions of his presidency. Through humor and satire, these illustrations highlighted key aspects of his character and policies, creating a vivid and memorable image of Roosevelt that endures to this day.

  • Heroic and Energetic Leader: Cartoons consistently depicted Roosevelt as a robust, energetic leader, reinforcing the idea of him as a proactive and dynamic president.
  • Trust-Buster and Conservationist: The recurring themes of trust-busting and conservation efforts in cartoons have cemented Roosevelt’s legacy as a reformer who championed the common good and the environment.
  • Iconic Imagery: Symbols such as the “Teddy Bear” and the “Big Stick” policy have become ingrained in popular culture, largely thanks to their frequent depiction in cartoons.

Shaping Historical Narratives

Political cartoons have played a crucial role in shaping the historical narrative of Roosevelt’s presidency. By capturing and critiquing his actions in real time, these cartoons provided contemporary and future audiences with a nuanced view of his administration.

  • Accessible History: Cartoons distilled complex political issues into easily understandable and engaging images, making history more accessible to the general public.
  • Balanced View: While celebrating Roosevelt’s achievements, cartoons also critiqued his more controversial decisions, offering a balanced perspective that historians continue to reference.
  • Cultural Reflection: These cartoons reflect the cultural and political climate of the early 20th century, providing valuable context for understanding Roosevelt’s impact and legacy.

Continued Relevance of Political Cartoons in Contemporary Media

Political cartoons remain a relevant and influential medium in contemporary media. The legacy of Roosevelt’s cartoons underscores the enduring power of this art form to engage, inform, and influence public opinion.

  • Social Commentary: Modern political cartoons continue to serve as a sharp tool for social commentary, critiquing current events and leaders with humor and insight.
  • Public Engagement: The visual and often humorous nature of cartoons makes them highly engaging, helping to draw attention to important issues and spark public debate.
  • Historical Continuity: Today’s cartoonists build on the legacy of their predecessors, using established techniques and themes to address contemporary political and social issues.


Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy has been vividly captured through the eyes of cartoonists. These political cartoons have shaped public perception, highlighting his dynamic personality and key policies. They played a crucial role in documenting and critiquing his presidency, leaving a lasting impact on how we remember him today. The enduring relevance of political cartoons underscores their power to influence and engage audiences, both in Roosevelt’s time and in contemporary media.