Herb Block’s (Herblock) Political Cartoons





One of playwright Herb Brown’s favorite political cartoonists is Herb Block.  The Herblock cartoons greatly influenced how Herb Brown approached writing the play, YOU’RE MY BOY.  The Library of Congress has a wonderful on-line collection of Herblock cartoons.







Herblock's Gift: Selections from the
Herb Block Foundation Collection

Unless otherwise noted, all items are preserved in the Prints and Photographs Division

Herb Block, Self Caricature
Herb Block.
Self-Caricature, ca. 1993.
Courtesy of the Herb Block Foundation

The Library of Congress has recently acquired by gift the entire personal archives of editorial cartoonist Herbert L. Block, better known to the world as "Herblock." Editorial cartoons are a vital form of political commentary, representing the freedom of expression inherent in American democracy, and the Library of Congress is proud to maintain one of the world's premier programs in the study and preservation of cartoon art.

Herblock's archives have been donated to the Library by the Herb Block Foundation, established by the artist's estate following his death in October 2001. The archives include voluminous files of records, correspondence, clippings, and photographs related to his unparalleled tenure as America's foremost political cartoonist. They also include approximately 14,000 original drawings for his celebrated cartoons as well as several thousand additional preparatory sketches which he used to conceptualize his finished pieces.

This exhibition celebrates the gift of the Herb Block Foundation and features a selection of original cartoons spanning the artist's remarkable career. He published his first political cartoon for a major U.S. daily newspaper shortly before the stock market crash in 1929, and drew his last in August 2001. In tens of thousands of drawings published in newspapers during his lifetime, he offered trenchant graphic commentary on virtually every notable incident and public figure from the Depression forward. He caricatured thirteen American presidents from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush, receiving in his storied career three Pulitzer Prizes for editorial cartooning (1942, 1954, and 1979) and a fourth with Washington Post colleagues for public service during the Watergate investigation (1973). A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, in 1994 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In spring 2000, the Library of Congress named Herb Block a "Living Legend" in recognition of his extraordinary contributions to the nation.

Herb Block's original drawings were his life and his legacy. They are now at the heart of a new relationship between the Library and the Herb Block Foundation that will provide comprehensive conservation treatment and unprecedented access to his life's work. The Herb Block Foundation will carry on the artist's lifetime devotion to social justice by providing financial aid to causes that reflect his ideals, including scholarships for deserving students and support for cartoonists who follow in his footsteps. The gift to the Library of Congress, where his work will be preserved in its entirety for us all to share, is the first step in that continuing journey.

For Herbert L. Block (1909-2001)


Herblock on the Cold War and Second Red Scare


"It's okay – We're hunting Communists"

The Cold War revived the anti-communist hysteria that had gripped the United States after World War I. In 1947 Congress revived the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), opposed by Herb Block since its inception in the 1930s and declared by President Truman to be itself the most un-American activity. Herb Block comments: "The FBI, under J. Edgar Hoover, helped provide the committee with material from its aptly named ‘raw files'. Some producers, directors and screen writers refused to testify or to play the ‘name game' in which the committee demanded the names of associates, who could then be called on to name others thus providing an ever-expanding list of suspects to be summoned."

"It's okay – We're hunting Communists," October 31, 1947
Ink, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing on layered paper
Published in the Washington Post (18)







"You read books, eh?"

During the postwar anti-communist campaign hundreds of elementary and high school teachers were investigated and lost their jobs, sometimes as a result of being named by proliferating "anti-subversive" groups and individuals. Some individuals compiled and circulated their own blacklists, which were accepted by frightened employers and casting directors who feared being blacklisted themselves if they sought facts and fair play. The motives of some self-serving or vindictive accusers were summed up by Herb Block in a phrase: "If you can't crush the commies, you can nail a neighbor."

"You read books, eh?" April 24, 1949
Ink, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing on layered paper
Published in the Washington Post (24)






Tick-tock, tick-tock

Herb Block's "Mr. Atom" personification of "the bomb" in many cartoons has reminded readers of the threat of nuclear annihilation. Here, a new international "atomic clock" developed by using atomic waves to provide a world standard of measurement gives its own reminder, as the great powers fail to reach agreement on the control of atomic energy.

Tick-tock, tick-tock, January 11, 1949
Ink, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing on layered paper
Published in the Washington Post (20)






"It's the same thing without mechanical problems"

Through the Marshall Plan, the U.S. poured money into rebuilding Western Europe after the ravages of war. Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin refused to allow the Eastern European nations to join the Marshall Plan and announced in its place a Council for Economic Mutual Assistance. The Soviet Union had no intention of underwriting the costs of recovery, and the plan existed primarily as a propaganda device.

"It's the same thing without mechanical problems," January 26, 1949
Ink, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing on layered paper
Published in the Washington Post (21)



"We now have new and important evidence"

Senator Joseph McCarthy's continued string of reckless charges of communism in government created such a sensation that the Senate appointed a special committee under Millard E. Tydings to investigate his "evidence." McCarthy managed to turn the hearings into a circus, each new charge obscuring the fact that earlier accusations weren't backed up. Despite a final report by the committee discrediting McCarthy's tactics and evidence, he emerged with more general support than ever. And "anti-subversive" hearings by other committees of Congress, particularly the Senate Internal Security Committee headed by Senator Pat McCarran (D-Nevada), continued treating rumors and unsupported charges as "evidence."

"We now have new and important evidence," May 8, 1950
Ink, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing on layered paper
Published in the Washington Post (28)






"Say, what ever happened to 'freedom-from-fear'?"

As Senator Joseph McCarthy's campaign against State Department and Justice Department officials continued, President Harry Truman spoke against "scaremongers and hatemongers" who "are trying to create fear and suspicion among us by the use of slander, unproved accusations, and just plain lies."

"Say, what ever happened to 'freedom-from-fear'?" August 13, 1951
Reproduction from original drawing
Published in the Washington Post (31)








Nothing exceeds like excess

Senator Joseph McCarthy's irresponsible tactics were endorsed by many voters who felt that the communist threat was such that the means justified the ends. A non-combat veteran, he had used the nickname "Tail-gunner Joe" to win a Senate seat after the war. He then latched on to anti-communism as a winning tactic for re-election. Other politicians, recognizing pay dirt when they saw it, jumped on his tar-barrel bandwagon. The attacks on the Truman Administration continued even as President Harry Truman was fighting a war against communist aggression in Korea. At the State Department's request, Herb Block contributed a booklet of his anticommunist cartoons for distribution abroad. McCarthy used this to charge that he was in the pay of the administration. When confronted by a reporter, McCarthy backed down.

Nothing exceeds like excess, September 12, 1952
Ink, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing on layered paper
Published in the Washington Post (32)






"Have a care, sir"

Throughout his political career, Dwight Eisenhower refused to take a public stand against Senator Joseph McCarthy's aggressive anti-communist campaign. Eisenhower even struck from a 1952 campaign speech in Wisconsin a defense of his mentor, George C. Marshall, a McCarthy target. Half a dozen Republican senators, including Ralph Flanders, joined Margaret Chase Smith in a "declaration of conscience" against McCarthy. Eisenhower, however, continued to speak of "justice and fair play" in fighting communism, and it was a long time before they prevailed.

"Have a care, sir," March 4, 1954
Reproduction from original drawing
Published in the Washington Post (33)








"Stand fast, men -- They're armed with marshmallows"

Even with Senator Joseph McCarthy on the wane, the general hysteria continued in many forms by assorted super patriots. In the summer of 1954, a branch of the American Legion denounced the Girl Scouts, calling the "one world" ideas advocated in their publications "un-American."

"Stand fast, men--They're armed with marshmallows," August 11, 1954
Reproduction from original drawing
Published in the Washington Post (35)








"Here he comes now"

Richard Nixon had discovered the power of smear attacks in his early campaigns for the House of Representatives and Senate years before Senator McCarthy began to use them. In 1954, during his vice-presidential campaign for re-election, Nixon traveled the country to charging previous Democratic administrations and current Democratic members of Congress with being soft on communism. His targets included some of the most respected members of the Senate. Herb Block's 1954 depiction of the emerging campaigner would stick with Nixon throughout his career.

"Here he comes now," October 29, 1954
Reproduction from original drawing
Published in the Washington Post (36)







"However, we've been pretty successful in keeping American newspapermen out of China"

The Suez Crisis of 1954 raised the specter of increased Soviet interest in the oil-rich Middle East. On January 5, 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower asked Congress for authority to provide economic and military assistance to contain communism in the Middle East. Some months earlier, Eisenhower's State Department, under John Foster Dulles, banned travel by United States citizens into Communist China despite China's offer of visas to American newsmen. Walter Lippmann wrote: "by what right, and on what principle, does he claim to have the power to decide how much information it is ‘desirable' for the American people to have?"

"However, we've been pretty successful in keeping American newspapermen out of China," January 6, 1957
Ink, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing on layered paper
Published in the Washington Post (41)



Herblock on the Civil Rights Movement


"Cannon to right of them, cannon to left of them"

During the 1948 presidential election, Southern Democrats rebelled, protesting President Harry Truman's civil rights program, while left-leaning Democrats split off to form the Progressive Party under the leadership of Henry A. Wallace. This prompted Herb Block to invoke the heroic, if ill-fated warrior in Alfred Tennyson's The Charge of the Light Brigade. Truman surprised almost everyone by winning the election in November.

"Cannon to right of them, cannon to left of them," February 23, 1948
Ink, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing on layered paper
Published in the Washington Post (19)




"Tsk Tsk -- Somebody Should Do Something About That"

President Dwight Eisenhower was frequently accused of failure to provide leadership on domestic problems. Among Herb Block's criticisms of the administration was Eisenhower's lack of support for the Supreme Court's 1954 ruling for desegregation. Eisenhower said we all have opinions and lamented that "you can't change the hearts of men by laws." The leadership vacuum persisted long after the Court's ruling, which allowed time for the organization of White Citizens councils, of "massive resistance" and confrontations that continued beyond Eisenhower's term. In 1956, two years after the Court's ruling, Eisenhower's view on integration was that it should proceed more slowly.

"Tsk Tsk -- Somebody Should Do Something
About That,
April 3, 1956
Reproduction of original drawing
Published in the Washington Post (145)






"Pray keep moving, brother"

As the civil rights movement heated up in the 1960s, black Americans cultivated the technique of peaceful protest, using it in dignified and disciplined demonstrations against segregation at lunch counters and other places. Here Herb Block focuses on the ultimate irony of segregation in places of worship preaching the brotherhood of man.

"Pray keep moving, brother," August 14, 1960
Ink, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing on layered paper
Published in the Washington Post (46)





"It's all right to seat them.
They're not Americans"

President John F. Kennedy called for southern governors to assure "a friendly and dignified reception" for foreign diplomats visiting the United States, amid widespread discrimination against blacks in restaurants and other public places. The governor of Virginia, where "massive resistance" to desegregation originated, promised to provide southern courtesy, but coupled his response with the suggestion that diplomats identify themselves as official representatives of their governments. Herb Block's cartoon, based on an actual occurrence, expressed the outrageousness of black Americans in the United States being held as less worthy of respectful treatment than foreigners.

"It's all right to seat them.
They're not Americans,"
April 27, 1961
Ink, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing on layered paper
Published in the Washington Post (48)






Further Reading:

The Herblock Book: Text and Cartoons by Herbert Block. Boston: Beacon Press, 1952.

Herblock's Here and Now. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1955.

Herblock's Special for Today. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1958.

Straight Herblock. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964.

The Herblock Gallery. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968.

Herblock's State of the Union. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972.

Herblock Special Report. New York: Norton, 1974.

Herblock on All Fronts: Text and Cartoons. New York: New American Library, 1980.

Herblock Through the Looking Glass. New York: Norton, 1984.

Herblock at Large: "Let's Go Back a Little . . ." and Other Cartoons with Commentary. New York: Pantheon Books, 1987.

Herblock : a Cartoonist's Life. New York: Macmillan Pub., 1993.

Bella and Me: Life in the Service of a Cat. Chicago: Bonus Books, 1995.