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Sid Smith

Many local visual artists have created works of beauty. But Sid Smith used his creative talents to make people laugh.

Bloomington native Robert Sidney “Sid” Smith (1877–1935) was a high school dropout with a sense of humor and drawing skills. At 18 he began drawing cartoons for the Pantagraph. The Chicago Examiner hired him in 1908, asking him to draw a sports-themed cartoon. He created a talking goat character, “Buck Nix,” that ran until the Chicago Tribune hired him in 1911. There he introduced a new goat character, “Old Doc Yak.” The cartoon strip became a nationally syndicated hit.

In 1917 Sid ended the popular cartoon strip with "Old Doc Yak" and his family leaving their house and wondering who might move in next. The last panel showed only the empty house.

Five days later, on February 12, 1917, in the space formerly occupied by “Old Doc Yak,” newspapers printed the first episode of The Gumps,” with the fictional family moving into the empty Yak house.

Sid Smith

Sid’s new cartoon was also a hit. From 1920 to 1922 “The Gumps” was adapted into a live-action, animated film series.

In 1922, Sid signed a new ten-year, million-dollar contract with the Chicago Tribune. Two years later he published Andy Gump, His life Story.

In 1926, Sid killed off Mary Gold, one of the cartoon’s main characters, which caused a media sensation across the country. Despite this, the cartoon’s popularity continued.

The contract for his comics, as well as the sale of merchandise (toys, games, a popular song, food products, etc.) and media adaptations, made Sid a wealthy man.

In 1935, the popularity of his cartoon brought Sid a renewed contract worth $150,000 a year. But on his way home from the signing, he crashed his car and died in a head-on collision. He was 58. “The Gumps” had a 42-year run in newspapers across the country that continued until 1959.

Sid traveled the country doing “chalk talks,” during which he discussed his process while making drawings. In 1933 he entertained the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce with one such talk.

“The Gumps” cartoon by Sidney Smith, Chicago Tribune, February 12, 1917

“Old Doc Yak” hood ornament
Circa 1915

View this object in Matterport

Merchandise inspired by Sid’s popular cartoons included this cast iron hood ornament.


2012.33

“Andy Gump” plaster figurine
Circa 1925

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This Andy Gump figurine was inspired by Sid's popular cartoon strip, "The Gumps."


2008.063

“The Big Red Apple,” original watercolor and ink drawing, circa October 12, 1913

After drafting several versions of a cartoon strip, Sid would hand draw and color the final art. The art was then photographed and color separations were made for printing red, yellow, cyan, and black inks. This strip was created by Sidney Smith for October 12, 1913 publication.

Donated by: Frances Lucylle Smith
95.8.99.8

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