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Cartoon History: The Oldest Cartoon Ever Drawn

Updated on October 1, 2014

The Cartoon Before the Cartoon

Logic dictates to some of us that drawing figures in the dirt and later painting them on cave walls and rock outcroppings was the first form of non-verbal "written" communications. Non-word vocalizations and hand gestures likely came first, followed by drawings done with twigs and sticks - unless a highly civilized world that could produce cartoons existed previous to current archeological findings and was destroyed without leaving evidence. There are oral stories and legends of such places in Africa...

I've heard some obscure translation references of the Old Testament about modern humans living on the Third Earth - I don't know how correct the translation. Some Christians groups formerly insisting that the earth is 6,000 years old, being completed just before the Hebrews received written language, now speak about 10,000 to 12,000 years - just right for the Native Americans ancestors to have walked across a narrow land bridge into the New World. Regardless, many or all peoples likely had cartoons.

Archaeology and Physical Anthropology are, as disciplines, divided somewhat about whether Northern Asians and Northern Europeans migrated across the Bering Land Bridge in 12,000 BC or earlier around 38,000 - 48,000 BC; and whether Indigenous Peoples appeared in parts of old "Oceana" like New Zealand around 48,000 - 60,000 BC or even prior to that just when, exactly. And the uproar of people everywhere that don't want to be related by one gene to "Them" and therefore deny migration and intermarriage is deafening.What's the fuss? That's one topic for cartoons. Others smile, since if one is human, one is related to all other humans - except perhaps some missing New Zealanders and the Basque.

We seem to have had at least three different strains (species, sub-species, what shall we call them?) of humans that include Homo Sapiens and we still have, unexplained, a "tribe" in New Zealand that National Geographic reported online in 2005 (wish I'd printed it out) on their Genographic website - possibly unrelated to other humans; and the possibility that the Basque straddling Spain and France are just different enough genetically to be separate from the rest of us; and the red-haired Giants (see Human Giants by Hubber Garry Nelson) about which Native American Tribes speak. Makes life interesting and gives comics some fodder.

Whatever the case may be - and I am sure that it is interesting - even the Hebrews first wrote in pictures, because the entire Hebrew language is an alphabet of Word Pictures. The Chinese alphabet(s), just as old, are word pictures. Before these alphabets of pictures, we had the dirt, the sand, and the rock or cave wall for communications and when the pictures worked in expressing ideas we had cartoons.

In modern times, somewhere, someone purposefully invented the cartoon drawing, the comic strip, comic books, graphic novels, the animated short film and feature, and the computer generated animation and probably other comics-related genres. Who did the first cartoon drawing that we have found and what was the character?

Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

The Ohio State University has been remodeling the Main Campus around the Oval from 2008 - 2012. Part of this upgrading has been the highlighting of various valuable museum collections that reside at OSU. The renovated Main Library includes a large museum room and various alarmed glass display cases around the main floor that have recently held Jesse Owens's Olympic Gold Medal, John Glenn's astronaut gear and many other treasures. In a building not far away, is the history of the cartoon.

The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum is a research library of American Comic Art on the Main Campus of The Ohio State University. Previously, it was named the Cartoon Research Library and the Cartoon Library & Museum. It provided numerous displays on the first floor of the Main Library of historic cartoon strips my such artists as Milton Caniff with his Terry and the Pirates, Steve Canyon, and others. In 2010, the organization is the most well developed academic research facility for the documentation of the printed cartoon. This includes single panel and political cartoons, comic strips, comic books, graphic novels, sports cartoons, and magazine cartoons from such publications as The New Yorker and UK's Punch, which is unfortunately no longer in publication. Students would view displays at the library and journey to Long's Book Store (also sadly defunct, but absorbed by Barnes and Noble) across High Street or the University Bookstore on Neil Avenue in order to purchase copies of Punch and other magazines with current cartoon art from their creators around the world in the 1970s - 1990s.

From to Museum to Museum

Sullivant Hall at the southwest corner of High Street and 15th Avenue at the OSU grand entrance was once the Ohio Historical Society museum, with a mastodon under its rotunda.

The building became a library and computer labs when the museum moved, then lost its book collection to the hugely renovated Thompson Main Library and most went dark. In 2010, planning began for the new home to the Billy Ireland collections at 15th Avenue and High Street. It now covers over 40,000 square feet with cartoon collections, manuscripts, and related galleries and work areas.It is a fantastic resource

It fulfills the dream of people that loved the idea of Sullivant Hall and the mastodon - the building is once again a museum.

The widow of Peanuts' Charles M. Schulz donated $1,000,000 and promised OSU Libraries a matching grant for any funds they could raise. In fact, she quoted a $2,500,000 cap and OSU raised its share. Even renowned Family Circus cartoonist Bil Keane and family donated $50,000. The new facility accumulated a $6 million fund in total and the university received a $7-million donation from the Elizabeth Ireland Graves Foundation to overhaul Sullivant Hall. All totaled, nearly $21 million poured into this project. But why Billy Ireland?

Ireland was a self-taught cartoonist from Chillicothe, Ohio. He was hired by the local paper, The Columbus Dispatch, in 1898 when he graduated from high school. He worked as a cartoonist for 37 years, drawing Dispatch political cartoons - the genre of which is still a favorite feature with readers - and a Sunday offering.

Will the Museum have the first cartoon?

Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum

A markerBilly Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum; 1813 N. High St.; Columbus OH -
1813 North High Street, Columbus, OH, USA
get directions

The Burnt City Goat

Oldest Cartoons

3,200 BC- A goblet discovered in an archaeological dig in Iran's Burnt City in the 1970s features 5 cartoon goat images and when you twirl the stem and look at the cup, the goat jumps up to eat the leaves of a palm-like tree.

33,000 BC - Two separate finds. 1) Red ocher on rock walls, depicting a creature with a long neck, another with five-legs, and a human, perhaps a be a wizard because of his mask with horns or simply wearing Indigenous garments. Found in Fumane Cave in the Lessini Hills, near Verona, Italy (published by The Guardian Unlimited October 19, 2000). 2) From the National Geographic, August 2001 -- Ardèche River, southern France, called "Grotte Chauvet" or Grotto Chauvet or Chauvet's Cave. Interestingly, another old cave painting includes several sets of images from the Cave of Altamira, some of which gave rise to a Spanish comic strip created in 1965 for TBO magazine.

Grotte Chauvet horses. These look very much like a middle school science fair project I did (I had not seen the cave painting).
Grotte Chauvet horses. These look very much like a middle school science fair project I did (I had not seen the cave painting).
Altamira Bison in Spain (from a ceiling painting). This is an incredibly professional image for it's being done in 33,000 BC.
Altamira Bison in Spain (from a ceiling painting). This is an incredibly professional image for it's being done in 33,000 BC. | Source

Cartoon Collections

In 2010, the oldest cartoons known so far are among the following. Much of the content of the Billy Ireland Museum is locked away and not available to the general public yet. However, American and International cartoon collections will be displayed in 2013 and we may yet see something older than this list.

1499 - This is a suspected political cartoon. it is an anonymously done woodcut Called Le Revers du Jeu des Suysses or Other Side of the Swiss Game. In it, the Pope, the Holy Roman Emperor, and Kings of France and England play cards -- Under the table, a Swiss Guard stacks the decks in a satire of French motives in Italy (the support of elite Swiss Guard was vital to France). (Reference: Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2004.)

1500 - Leonardo da Vinci worked in Milan on a theme of Blessed Virgin and Child with St Anne, and may have brought back a large cartoon he had produced, used as a stencil for applying to another medium and then painting the picture. These cartoons were often perforated so chalk could get through onto the new art medium. (Reference: Il gigante: Michelangelo, Florence, and the David, 1492-1504, by Anton Gill, page 206.)

1754 - Benjamin Franklin is often credited with the first political cartoon, in the Pennsylvania Gazette in spring, 1754. (Reference: Sacramento Bee. February 4, 2007, Page 110.)

After 1799 and before 1846 - First comic book so far recognized: In France: Histoire de M. Vieux Bois, or in Amerca: The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck by Rodolphe Töpffer (1799 - 1846).

Ally (Alexander) Sloper (1867)


The Yellow Kid, beginning 1894 in "The Truth" magazine

1867- A W.C. Fields-type of character, called Ally Sloper, in UK (see example above).

1872 - First political cartoon by an African American, the former slave Mr. Henry Jackson Lewis, who moved to Arkansas from Mississippi.

1894 and 1895 - The Yellow Kid and Hogan's Alley, one of first comic strips or perhaps the oldest comic strips of all.

These were drawn by Richard F. Outcault and included "The Yellow Kid."

Political cartoons had been drawn previously for at least 100 years in Ohio, during the American Revolution, and in UK, if not in other countries and around the world.

1901 - St. Louis Post and Dispatch - the front page Weatherbird, still running in 2010.

1908 - Fantasmagorie

1911 - Little Nemo

1919 - Felix the Cat

1948- Crusader Rabbit was test marketed. It is possibly the first cartoon produced for TV.

First aired in August 1950 in California (Crusader vs. the State of Texas) and in select TV markets during its run.


Which is the Oldest?

I don't know if we have found the oldest cartoon in existence yet, but we know about some of the oldest ones in a range of historical eras.

Other Old Cartoons and Comments

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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 3 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Thanks very much for reading and commenting. Our university has a new cartoon museum I am eager to visit soon.

    • Seasons Greetings profile image

      Laura Brown 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Enjoyed your post. I always like reading some history behind things.

    • StephenSMcmillan profile image

      StephenSMcmillan 6 years ago

      Hi Patty Inglish, MS.

      You are always published good hub, I really enjoyed to read this.

    • anime_nanet profile image

      anime_nanet 7 years ago from Portugal

      Excel Saga was a 26 episodes one shot. After the last ep+isode they wrapped it up.

      Pretty good one though, I would like to see a 2md season as well :)

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 7 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      @KeithTax - I meant 2 or three, not 203 - that's a lot of smiling!

      @billyustindillon - Political ones make me laugh, usually, unless their highlighting tragedy, of course.

      @BDazller - I think there's a lot more in International databases and such - wish I could speak 100 languages. Which reminds me - I looked at a group of Russian cartoons in the library, from the 1960s and their humor was people falling in mud puddles and such.

      @Faybe Bay - Your son sounds quite artistically and communications-wise inclined. I do think early cartoons were easier to draw than to write understandable language. Are their art workshops you son could attend? One arts college here has high school workshops on weekends sometimes in spring and summer - free or low cost. Sometimes they do murals on walls in the community. I saw one project on paper where a cartoon house changed in a new version from left to right into more and more realistic an image. The final panel looked almost like a photograph!

      @anime_nanet - I like some anime very much - Do they still make the anime Excel? Used to watch that one.

    • anime_nanet profile image

      anime_nanet 7 years ago from Portugal

      Another grerat hub in a top+ic that is very fond to me!

      I learned something new today. Thanks!

    • Faybe Bay profile image

      Faye Constantino 7 years ago from Florida

      Truly amazing. My son has been drawing since he could hold a pen. He started at less than a year old at the coffee table on lined paper, what appeared to be cursive writing, and we wished we knew what he was trying to write! He always stayed on the line, as if he knew what he was writing. He was even very serious about it, demanding even. Later we would find his art work had progressed to an airplane and an alien face. He is fifteen, and for many years "drew cartoons" straight across the paper, he would draw and explain his drawing in a what happened before, during and next fashion. When he looked at the drawing, he saw all of the action; when we were often confused, he would patiently explain as if we just didn't understand art.

      It is ironic that these ancient cartoons exist, maybe it is a form of writing on a pre-writing scale, such as my son's cartoons.

    • BDazzler profile image

      BDazzler 7 years ago from Gulf Coast, USA

      I love the diversity of your writing, Patty. You have such good information on so many topics. Really enjoyed this one.

    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 7 years ago

      Great hub - really interesting with the political element

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 7 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      @Pamella99 - This is why I like to answer Hub Requests/Questions. Some of the questions are very interesting and fun to look into. Glad you like this one.

      @Rochelle Frank - Yes and I'm not convinced it dates back to 0-300AD; pretty ugly in a way - looks to me like the work of a 3-year-old, but interesting and has several things to say about the characters and period culture - the idea of a cattle sacrifice instead of a lamb is interesting - perhaps political, perhaps anti-Christian, or not; perhaps a combination of Christian and other beliefs, or not; and other possibilities. And it puts me in mind of "Equus", of which OSU has some of the original costumes from the early 1970s.

      @Sandyspider - Thanks for reading!

      @KeithTax - I have 203 favorites that make me smile no matter what the day has brought. A couple others make me think as well.

      @William F. Torpey - I agree; have been looking at Ohio political cartoons from the 1800s and those fo Dr. Seuss.

      @Hello, hello - Thanks for reaading!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      I have learned so much from your hub. Thank you very much.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 7 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Cartoons are fun, Patty... no matter how old they are. I particularly enjoy political cartoons.

    • KeithTax profile image

      Keith Schroeder 7 years ago from Wisconsin

      I start every day with the comics.

      You never cease to amaze me, Patty. Your hubs are fun and informative to read. Your research is very solid.

      I did not know Crusader Rabbit was the first cartoon made for TV. I'll read this one again. Bookmarked. I can't help it. The kid in me is intrigued.

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 7 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      I enjoyed see the oldest cartoons.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country

      Did you find the "Alexamenos graffito"?

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

      I don't know where you come up with such unique ideas for research but this is a very interesting hub. I never thought about cartoons going back that many centuries. Excellent hub!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 7 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      kowalty - I kept finding older and older cartoons and was surprised. Probably some older will be found. Thanks for posting!

    • kowality profile image

      kowality 7 years ago from Everywhere

      Always packed full of unique content and interesting links.. ..Thanks Patty