Who could believe that America would carry on a 42-year love affair with Andy Gump--a bald, toothless, chinless chap whose biggest claim to fame was that he invented the flowerpot and introduced the polka-dot tie to America?
Maybe Chicago Tribune co-editor Joseph Medill Patterson, who introduced Andy and the rest of "The Gumps" to Chicagoans on this date. As Patterson saw it, his brainchild would be quite unlike the one-gag comic strips then filling newspapers. Besides delivering a daily dose of laughter at the American breakfast table, the strip would tell a continuing story and the characters peopling "The Gumps" would mirror the lives of Tribune readers.It was so perfectly Patterson, the sometime playwright, sometime farmer who possessed a keen newspaperman's instinct for what would appeal to the common man. Those were the talents that Patterson's cousin, the starched and formal Robert R. McCormick, had recognized in urging Joe to join him in running the Tribune.
Although the two men could hardly have been more different, --McCormick was a Republican, Patterson a former avowed Socialist-- they worked well together. McCormick focused on the newspaper's business affairs, while Patterson shaped daily features and put his stamp on the Sunday paper. They took monthly turns running the editorial page.
Patterson frequently wrote storylines for "The Gumps," but it was artist Sidney Smith who brought Andy and his family to life on the page. The strip soon prompted passionate responses from readers across the country, thanks to newspaper syndication.
When Uncle Bim almost married the conniving Widow Zander, the Minneapolis Board of Trade suspended operations briefly so its members could find out what happened. And thousands called the Tribune and other newspapers to protest the death of the character Mary Gold.
The New York Times commented when Smith was killed in a car accident in October 1935: "The death of Sidney Smith . . . will be felt by literally millions of Americans."
In 1925, Patterson moved to New York to devote his attention to the New York Daily News, which had begun publication in 1919.
The move did not stop Patterson from developing more story strips, securing his reputation as one of the most influential figures in the annals of American comics. He is credited with coaching to life such legendary titles as "Winnie Winkle," " Moon Mullins," "Little Orphan Annie," "Terry and the Pirates" and "Dick Tracy," which debuted in the Daily News in 1931 and in the Tribune the following year.
While many of Patterson's story strips have survived into the 1990s, the Gump family went to comic-strip heaven Oct. 17, 1959.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun