Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling was a well-known political cartoonist. His cartoons were printed in almost 150 papers across the United States. All were drawn before television and some before radio when newspapers were the most important form of communication. Darling drew through two World Wars and the terms of seven presidents. He drew during many important events in the 20th century, including the Great Depression, prohibition and the labor movement. Throughout his life, Darling was also a huge supporter of natural conservation.Darling was born in Michigan in 1876 at the same time as the United States’ centennial. His family moved to Sioux City in 1885 when his father, Marcellus Darling, accepted a position as a minister at First Congregational Church. Some of Darling’s best memories came from his childhood in Sioux City. He loved the tall grass fields in South Dakota where he and his brother played. Darling sat on the banks of the Missouri and Big Sioux Rivers listening to the sounds of nature on summer nights. It was in the prairies around Sioux City that Darling discovered his love of nature.
In 1894 Darling left Sioux City for college. He attended the University of Yankton, but later decided he wanted to go to Beloit College in Wisconsin with his friends. He wanted to be a doctor, but needed more money for medical school. Darling returned to Sioux City in 1900 to make money for school by working for the Sioux City Journal. He started as reporter covering stories along the Missouri River and in Covington (South Sioux City). Journal editor George Perkins had high standards for his employees, and Darling was happy to learn the newspaper business from him.
While Darling wrote stories for the Journal he sketched for fun. He began studying the people in Sioux City and made simple sketches. In the desk drawer of his office there were many small bits of paper with drawings of the city’s most familiar faces. Darling’s first cartoon appeared in the Journal when was covering a trial at the courthouse. He tried to take a photograph of the one of the attorneys, but couldn’t get the photo when the man swung his cane at Darling. Darling was not hurt, but had no photo either so he decided to draw the enraged attorney swinging his cane. Darling’s editor loved the drawing and it was printed.
Newspaper readers enjoyed the drawing and Darling’s cartoons began appearing in the Journal on a regular basis. His early cartoons were generally harmless fun. In 1901 Darling drew his first political cartoon, which supported Theodore Roosevelt’s campaign for the creation of a forestry service. Darling was becoming more popular outside of Sioux City because the Journal had many customers throughout Iowa. After he helped George Perkins campaign for governor, Darling began receiving tempting offers from other Iowa newspapers.
The offer from the Des Moines Register and Leader of $50 a week lured Darling away from Sioux City. He and his wife, Genevieve “Penny,” moved to Des Moines in 1906. Darling’s cartoons of the 1908 Presidential Election skyrocketed him to enormous success. By 1911, Darling took a job at the Globe in New York City where everyone in the United States and around the world could see his cartoons. He made many friends in New York, but did not like his job because he felt isolated from coworkers and management tried to control the subjects of his cartoons. He moved back to Des Moines in 1913. Darling was still popular and he regularly received job offers from the best newspapers. The Kansas City Star even called Darling “the best cartoonist in this broad land at present.”
Over the next twenty years, Darling’s popularity grew and he befriended Herbert Hoover. At the same time he also concentrated on his desire for conservation. Both Hoover and conservation became frequent subjects in his cartoons through the 1920s. Sometimes Darling’s friendship with Hoover was difficult because the President did nothing for conservation. Darling, however, always supported Hoover.
When Hoover lost the 1932 election, Darling was upset that his friend had been blamed for the collapse of the United States economy. The nation had entered the Great Depression and Franklin Roosevelt was the new president. Darling did not like Roosevelt, but the president’s ideas for conservation pleased the cartoonist.
Through the early 1930s, Darling’s thoughts were mostly about natural conservation. During the period he drew fewer cartoons, but was appointed to the United States Biological Survey by Roosevelt.
Several years later he left the Survey to start drawing again. Soon after his return to the drawing board, Darling’s cartoons focused on the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany and the start of World War Two. Darling, like most Americans, despised Adolph Hitler, the Nazi Party, and Japan. After the defeat of the Axis powers, Darling continued his work in conservation and as a cartoonist.
Through the years Darling had become a very well known and highly respected journalist. Because of this respect he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1924. There are only a few awards granted every year and they are given to only the best journalists. He received a second Pulitzer in 1942.
By 1943 his health was beginning to decline and he worked less on both of his passions. He retired from cartooning in 1949. In the 1950s and early 60s most of his time was still spent on efforts to conserve wildlife areas. Ding Darling died in 1962, but his name is carried on by his cartoons and by the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. Many people still think of Darling as one of the best cartoonists ever and as a great conservationist.
Darling, “Ding” Biography File. Sioux City Public Museum.
Darling, Jay N. As Ding Saw Hoover. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press, 1954.
Garraty, John A. Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1965.