Thomas Nast was born on September 27, 1840, in Landau, Germany, and immigrated with his mother and sister to New York in 1846. Young Nast was a indifferent studenthe never learned to read or writebut showed an early talent for drawing. He studied at the National Academy of Design in New York City.
Thomas Nast began his career at the age of 15 at Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, worked briefly at Harper's Weekly, then took an assignment in England. His illustrations were published in European and American newspapers.
After returning to the United States, Nast began to make a national name for himself with his cartoons during the Civil War, which were published in Harper's Weekly. Eliminating unnecessary pictorial detail and shortening captions, Thomas Nast advanced the development of the modern political cartoon and made it more forceful.
He used his talents to become the most influential and famous cartoonist in the United States. His real breakthrough came with a series of drawings depicting the foibles of Reconstruction and the political corruption in New York City. His efforts were instrumental in dismantling the Tweed Ring.
Thomas Nast became a wealthy man, in part though the publication of his drawings, but also from a lucrative series of public lectures in which he both spoke and sketched. Nast also was an illustrator and oil painter of note.
Thomas Nast made lasting contributions to the American political and cultural scene. He:
- Created the elephant as the symbol for the Republican Party and the donkey for the Democrats
- Developed the popular appearance of Uncle Sam as the personification of the United States; the concept, however, had been used earlier by others
Popularized a conception of Santa Claus which remains to the present. Previous renditions had placed a greater emphasis on the figure's religious qualities. Nast, however, was greatly influenced by Clement Moore's poem, The Night Before Christmas, which was read to the illustrator by his wife.
Thomas Nast was appointed consul at Guayaquil, Ecuador, in May, 1902. He died from yellow fever there on December 7, 1902.