In todays post, I will talk about Ding Darling and reveal his role in our story. Much has been written about Darling and I will attempt to summarize the literature and hopefully add a few insights not readily found elsewhere. When discussing Darling’s early life, many writers point to a series of events that are seen as formative in his life.
I have found that while many biographies include these central themes, the details often vary from one account to the next. I will do my best to represent consensus, however, one should be aware that while some accounts differ in (for example) his exact age when moving from one place to another – the gist remains similar and does not effect the telling of the story in any appreciable way.
Many of you know that Darling was an editorial cartoonist whose career spanned many decades. Over this time he is estimated to have published 15-20,000 cartoons, two of which resulted in Pulitzer Prizes. He was also deeply involved in conservation efforts throughout his life and created the artwork for the first federal waterfowl stamp (see Figures 1 and 2).
That first federal stamp has become iconic in several worlds: waterfowl and fish and game stamps, wildlife art, wildlife refuge and conservation circles. What you may not know is that Darling had a profound influence on a young wildlife artist from his same town, Des Moines, Iowa and that this influence was itself formative in the life of one Maynard Reece.
Maynard would go on to win five different federal duck stamp contests and one of his entries would result in the only image to rival that of Darling’s in terms of recognition and appreciation in our hobby.
Jay Norwood Darling was born on October 21, 1876 to Clara Woolson Darling and Marcellus Warner Darling. His middle name was taken from the town in which he was born, Norwood, Michigan. Jay’s father had been a civil war veteran, schoolteacher and principal before becoming a Congregational Methodist minister (or pastor). His mother was quiet and pious and spent much of her time in meditative silence.
The Darlings moved around a bit when Jay was young, following Marcellus from position to position in Cambria, Michigan and Elkhart, Indiana before finally settling in Sioux City, Iowa when Jay was eight to ten years old.
It was while living in Elkhart that everyone points to the first profoundly formative experience in Jay’s life. A family friend, Lamarcus Thompson, was an entrepreneur who went to England to build that country’s first roller coaster.
While there (approx. 1883), Thompson sent the Darlings a drawing of the roller coaster on a card (some accounts say it was a postal card, however, that would have been very early for a postal card and somewhat unlikely).
It was this fanciful image that is said to have inspired young Jay (then seven years old) to begin his lifelong passion for sketching. Jay tried to imitate the picture on the card and subsequently carried a sketch pad with him wherever he went and began sketching on a regular, if not daily, basis.
The Darlings moved to Sioux City around 1885, when his father accepted a position at First Congregational Church. Jay grew up in this town along the Missouri River and it was here that he spent a great deal of time playing outdoors with his brother, Frank, and fell in love with nature.
One of Jay’s first lessons in conservation came in his teens, while working on his uncles farm. According to the story, Jay shot a wood duck during nesting season and his uncle came down on him hard – telling Jay that shooting ducks out of season affected the breeding population and was detrimental to keeping their populations viable. This was a lesson Jay was to take to heart and carry with him for the rest of his life.
Although maintaining a keen interest in sketching, this apparently was not thought to be a promising career by his parents and Jay decided that he would become a doctor. In 1894, at age 18, Jay left Sioux City to attend Yankton College in South Dakota as a pre-med student (see Figure 3). Some accounts say he was subsequently expelled for “taking the school president’s carriage for a joy ride” or bad grades – or both.
He ended up at Beloit College in Wisconsin. This proved to be another formative experience but not one having to do with medicine. As a junior he worked on the school yearbook, the Codex, and soon assumed the role of art editor. He illustrated the Codex with his sketches, which for the first time took on a political slant and were frequently aimed at the school faculty.
Although the faculty was impressed with the quality of his sketches, the subject matter not so much and Jay was expelled for a year. Once again, poor grades contributed to the decision (see Figure 4).
He eventually returned to Beloit and graduated in 1900. It was while sketching for the Codex that Jay started signing his work “D’ing”. This was simply a contraction of his last name, Darling, wherein he substituted an apostrophe for the the 2nd, 3rd and 4th letters (see Figure 5).
Some accounts say that he first used the contraction in an attempt to keep his identity a secret from the faculty. I guess that did not work out the way he planned. The name, however, stuck. While at Beloit, Jay took a general biology course from a professor who taught him to view the world in ecological terms. This course would have a big impact on Jay’s life.
First Newspaper Work
After graduating Beloit, Jay retuned to Sioux City. He still wanted to be a doctor but needed money for medical school. His financial situation at this time was likely compounded by the fact that his father was experiencing asthmatic trouble and so his parents left town – presumably leaving Jay to fend for himself.
Jay took a job at the Sioux City Journal, where he started as a reporter (see Figure 6). He sometimes illustrated stories with his sketches and it was while working at the Journal that Jay became involved in arguably the most formative experience of his entire life. This is perhaps the most ubiquitous Jay N. Darling story and has been repeated in virtually all accounts and biographies.
One day Jay was covering a trial at the local courthouse and he was attempting to get a photo of one of the attorneys to accompany his article. The attorney objected to having his picture taken and swung his cane at the surprised reporter, then chased him out of the building. As Jay was unable to get the photo, he decided to draw a picture of the enraged attorney swinging his cane – in the form of a cartoon.
His editor liked and printed it and from that point on, Jay’s cartoons appeared in the Journal on a regular basis. His cartoons became very popular and were a daily feature for the next six years. During this time, Jay spent his free time hiking, hunting, fishing and enjoying the outdoors.
Jay felt that not enough was being done to protect land and wildlife. He frequently used his cartoons to draw attention to the need for conservation. This made him popular among like minded people and he started to make a name for himself.
It was while working for the Journal in Sioux City that Jay met future wife, Genevieve Pendleton (better known by her nickname, Penny) and they were married on October 31, 1906. Jay’s cartoons were now starting to garner statewide attention, and while he and Penny were on their honeymoon in the West Indies, he received an offer from the much larger and more prominent Des Moines Register and Leader to be their regular cartoonist (see Figure 7).
Jay would spend most of his career at the paper (which later became the Des Moines Register). However, as his stature as a cartoonist grew, he made a brief move to New York in an attempt to reach a larger audience at the Globe. He soon became unhappy working for the Globe for a variety of reasons and moved back to Des Moines and the Register and Leader.
The Iowa newspaper could not offer him syndication, so he worked out a deal with his editor, Gardiner Cowles, whereby he was permitted to syndicate his cartoons through the New York Herald Tribune. The contract required him to live in New York for a second period of time, after which he moved back to Des Moines for good in 1919.
The syndication through the Herald Tribune resulted in his cartoons appearing in 130 – 150 newspapers a day for a ten year period and it was during this time that he shot to world-wide fame. In 1924 he won his first Pulitzer Prize for a cartoon titled “In Good Old U.S.A.” (see Figure 8).
Throughout the 1920s, Jay and his editorial cartoons continued to grow in popularity. This was before television and (for many) before radio. Everyone relied on newspapers for information. Soon Jay’s syndicated cartoons came to have a huge impact on public opinion.
He met Herbert Hoover and as the two were both conservative Republicans, they developed a close friendship. During this time, Hoover was frequently the subject of Jay’s cartoons. The one thing that disappointed Jay about Hoover is that he felt Hoover did very little for conservation while in office.
Becoming More Involved in Conservation
In the early 1930s, Jay became increasingly involved in conservation projects. He worked with the Iowa Fish and Game Commission and helped fund the Cooperative Wildlife Research Center at Iowa State College (now University). Later, he persuaded the two institutions to work together on developing one of the first long range conservation programs in the country (25 years).
When Franklin D. Roosevelt beat Hoover in the 1932 election, Jay was unhappy. He felt Hoover was unfairly blamed for the collapse of the economy and did not much care for the liberal FDR or his New Deal policies. FDR became the subject of many of his cartoons and unlike those involving Hoover, they were not so light-hearted. One thing he did like about the new President was his ideas on conservation.
Jay was greatly saddened by the unprecedented destruction to wildlife, especially waterfowl, caused by the Dust Bowl years starting in 1932. He continued to raise public awareness for conservation with his cartoons (see Figure 9). This would eventually catch the attention of FDR.
Ding Darling Goes to Washington
In 1934 Jay was appointed by Roosevelt to The Committee for Wild Life Restoration. Many believe the appointment was an attempt to balance the committee politically, as FDR was well aware of Jay’s politics and his friendship with Hoover. The committee consisted of Darling, Aldo Leopold and Thomas Beck, editor of Collier’s Magazine and a close friend of FDR.
Beck had previously held the position of Chairman of the Connecticut State Board of Fisheries and Game, where he sponsored a six-year plan for statewide wildlife restoration. Now Beck desired to do the same on a national level, “particularly on behalf of migratory game birds”.
Beck chaired the committee and wanted to replace the Bureau of Biological Survey with a new government agency that would oversee a massive (20-50 million dollar) program focussing on habitat acquisition, restoration and conservation – much of it for migratory waterfowl.
Jay and Aldo Leopold argued that the work could be accomplished by the Bureau with adequate funding and once again proposed a national migratory bird hunting stamp. Roosevelt had a good feeling about Darling and Leopold and supported them instead of his friend, Beck.
He offered Jay the position of Director of the Bureau of Biological Survey and Jay accepted on a temporary basis (the decision was announced on March 10th). The Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act was then quickly passed through Congress and signed into law by FDR on March 16th, 1934 (see Figure 10). Jay subsequently began to implement new conservation policy based upon Leopold’s work.
Although Jay Darling is widely credited for “guiding The Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act through Congress” – and I have repeated the same elsewhere in previous articles and in other places on this website – the truth of the matter is, that in reviewing the literature for this post, I cannot find much evidence to show how he did this.
Jay was a staunch Republican and was opposed to most of the current administration’s policies. The majority of Congress was comprised of Democrats at the time. It is not clear how much influence he could have had.
In fact, the national hunting license (stamp) idea had been shot down on many occasions since it was first proposed by George Lawyer in 1919. It is somewhat of a mystery how all of a sudden it was passed so easily (in a matter of days) in the Spring of 1934.
Somehow, the combination of Darling, Leopold and Roosevelt created some bipartisan magic at a very crucial time in conservation history – and the much anticipated stamp finally became a reality.
Jay, himself, designed the artwork for the vignette and was allowed to purchase stamps from the first sheet sold, at a special ceremony held two days prior to the stamps going on sale to the public on August 24, 1934 (see Figures 11 and 12).
Jay would serve at the Bureau of Biological Survey for twenty months (accounts differ on how long he was actually employed by the government). During this period, he is said to have given up his $100,000.00 a year salary for a government paycheck of $8,000.00.
In addition to helping save and reorganize the Bureau (which became the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), helping to finally bring about the federal waterfowl stamp program, designing the artwork for the first stamp and modernizing wildlife conservation management based on the work of Aldo Leopold – Jay appointed J. Clark Sayler II as first Chief of the Bureau’s Wildlife Refuge Program.
The appointment was one of Jay’s greatest achievements. Under Sayler’s 30 year period of leadership, the number of refuges expanded tremendously. Jay N. Darling resigned as Director on November 15, 1935 and was succeeded by Ira N. Gabrielson (see Figure 13).
He returned to Des Moines and his job was a at the Des Moines Register. Ding continued to promote public awareness about wildlife conservation with his cartoons but longed to have a greater impact. In 1936 he convinced FDR to invite thousands of sportsmen to attend the first North American Wildlife Conference in Washington, D.C.
This resulted in the formation of the General Wildlife Federation, which later became the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). The organization brought together many small groups that were already educating people about conservation.
Darling was elected the first president and served for three years. In 1938, in order to secure funding for the Federation, Jay went to the well and started the NWF conservation stamp program. Jay created the artwork for the first 16 stamps himself. One of the stamps, featuring a pair of mallards alighting, was very similar to Jay’s first federal – but in multicolor ( see Figure 14).
Serendipity… or Fate?
It turns out that Jay would play an important role in inspiring the creation another stamp of more significance to fish and game collectors than the NWF series – one that would some day rival his 1934 image in recognition and popularity.
Also in 1938 (while still President of the NWF), he was introduced to a young “up-and-coming” artist from Des Moines that shared his passion for wildlife, conservation – and especially waterfowl.
The young man was 18 years old and had started working for a publishing company. One of the editors knew Jay and decided the two should meet. The teenager’s name was Maynard Reece.