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Berryman Cartoons Capture Past Political Campaigns

National Archives Times ‘Running for Office’ Exhibit to Coincide With 2008 Elections

With a few strokes of his pen, Clifford K. Berryman created the 1902 political cartoon that to this day is remembered because it gave rise to the ever-popular teddy bear.

The cartoon, called “Drawing the Line in Mississippi,” was inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s refusal to shoot an old, haggard bear during a hunting trip. Berryman altered the bear’s looks in the drawing, giving birth to the cute and cuddly bear that would be used as a symbol in later cartoons and made into a stuffed animal.

The famous teddy bear cartoon and many other Berryman drawings can be seen in “Running for Office,” an exhibit that opens Friday at the National Archives.

The cartoons, which will remain on display through Aug. 17, are drawn from election periods during Berryman’s more than 50-year career to show the timelessness of the campaign process.

“Even though the people might not be recognizable, the process and issues [the cartoons] focus on are still issues we’re focused on now,” said Martha Grove, an archivist at the Center for Legislative Archives. Grove added that the exhibit was planned to coincide with the 2008 presidential campaign season.

In his cartoons, Berryman covered everything from Grover Cleveland’s 1892 campaign to Harry Truman’s 1948 run. Berryman was well-liked by politicians because he never drew distorted features or used mean-spirited humor, Grove noted. She added that Berryman often would give his cartoons to the prominent politicians featured in them.

“He wasn’t trying to be nice,” she said. “He was just making political commentary.”

Many of Berryman’s cartoons appeared in The Washington Post and the Washington Evening Star, making him a household name. He worked every day until he had a stroke in the 1920s. He then scaled back to three days a week and his son, Jim, picked up the slack. Berryman died in 1949 at the age of 80 and was survived by his son and his daughter, Florence, who never married.

When Florence died in the early 1990s, a local auction was planned to liquidate her assets. But while the house was being cleaned out, garbage bag after garbage bag containing Berryman’s original cartoon drawings were found in the basement.

A private organization called the Englehardt Foundation bought the cartoons as a whole and donated them to the Senate. The set was moved to the National Archives, where all Senate records are kept.

With 2,400 of Berryman’s original cartoons, the Archives are home to the largest collection of Berryman cartoons in the world, Grove said.

People can still enjoy the cartoons today because of their clean sense of humor, Grove said, adding that politicians of Berryman’s day enjoyed them as well. Berryman often received notes from politicians complimenting a cartoon they liked, she said.

In 1949, Truman added his name to the admirers, telling Berryman: “You are a Washington institution comparable to the monument.”

“Running for Office” will be at the National Archives from Feb. 8 to Aug. 17. The Archives are located at 700 Pennsylvania Ave. NW and currently are open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Friday.

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