Throughout his long, storied career, Milton Rawson Halladay proved the adage, time and again: a picture is worth one-thousand words. One of the nation’s most popular cartoonists during the first half of the 20th century, Halladay’s drawings reflected the sentiments and the conscience of the nation on the crucial issues pertaining to the economic, moral, and social issues of the day. A nationally syndicated cartoonist, his renderings became some of the most anticipated for readers of not only the Providence Journal (his employer) but of newspapers across the country. His commemoration of Thomas Edison’s death, published on October 18, 1931, was the runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize for cartooning. It shows a drawing of Edison illustrating many of his inventions.
Halladay was born in East Dover Vermont, on Dec. 16, 1874, to a family of humble means. But talent does not discriminate based on income. That fact became readily apparent by the time he reached high school age. His father realized that his talents wouldn’t be done justice unless he received a formal art education. His father sent Halladay to live with his aunt, in neighboring Massachusetts. Halladay then attended the Norman School of Art in Boston. There, he learned the art of chalk plate engraving. At that time, chalk plate engraving was the primary method for newspaper illustration.
Milton went to work in the newspaper industry in Providence, RI, working for the Telegram, The News, and the Pawtucket Times. In 1900, a 26-year-old Halladay was hired in the art department of the Providence Journal. At the time that Milton joined the Journal staff, technology was changing. Chalk plate illustrations were being replaced with photographs, and Milton’s job morphed from illustrator to the Journal’s primary photographer.
The events of the Great War, however, led editor John R. Rathom back to the art of political cartoons. He felt that Milton’s illustrations could express his strong anti-German feelings more directly than any photograph. Walter S. Bell was the war correspondent for The Providence Journal in WWI. He was sent to France in November of 1917 and stayed there for a year after the war ended. His beat was Rhode Island soldiers, their lives and battle experiences. Bell pressed generals to get him to the front where Rhode Island troops were fighting. Milton Halladay’s artwork often accompanied Bell’s dispatches when the wire services couldn’t supply photographs.
The 20th century provided Milton with plenty of material. He made illustrations about both World Wars, The Korean War, The Great Depression, and almost every other major issue during the first half of the 20th century. His voluminous work output earned him the label “one of the deans of American cartooning.” His cartoons reflected the social, moral, and economic issues of the time. Through the use of a single image, Milton was able to reflect the tone of the nation, surrounding a host of local, national and world events.
During WWII, Milton drew a series of political posters, including:
• “The Hour Is Here.” By early 1945, the Red Army advances on the Eastern front had driven the Germans out of Eastern Poland as far as the Vistula River. The Red Army launched the Vistula-Oder Offensive on Jan. 12, 1945. Milton’s drawing shows a Russian soldier moving the hands of a clock labeled “Eastern Front” with Hitler lurking in the background.
• His drawing, “The Best Guarantee of Peace,” depicts Uncle Sam sitting in a chair while holding a rifle in his lap. The word “preparedness” is inscribed on the barrel.
• “That’s The Way” to Remember It shows a group of people buying war bonds in a post office.
• “Let’s Raise The Ante” depicts the American taxpayer playing cards with Congress.
One of his most famous political cartoons shows Herbert Hoover standing, looking taller and stronger than ever. Hoover has taken off his suit coat which lies rumpled behind him. He has a determined look on his face, with a rolled-up sleeve in preparation of fisticuffs. To see Halladay’s cartoons that critiqued the Rhode Island state legislature is to realize that as much as things change, they also stay the same. His cartoons railed against corruption and unfair corporate influence over the state’s legislative process.
His work has been exhibited at diverse organizations ranging from the West Virginia University Department of Journalism, The Columbus, Ohio, Gallery of Fine Art, and the National Press Club of Washington
Halladay retired from The Providence Journal in 1947, at the age of 73. He continued to work as a freelancer up until his death on June 2, 1961.
Halladay’s son Allan, a gifted artist in his own right, worked alongside him at the Journal’s editorial department for roughly 14 years.
Milton R. Halladay was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1966.
For additional reading:
Cartoons by Halladay, Legare Street Press, Sep. 10, 2021.