Two men. Good friends who both called Iowa home. Born two years apart, and dying two years apart, they really had more differences than they had in common. One was an engineer – quiet, exacting and thoughtful. The other was an artist with a bubbly, entertaining personality. One made it big in politics. The other made it big poking fun at politicians.
Ding Darling, political cartoonist with The Des Moines Register, first met Herbert Hoover in 1919 at the Ft. Des Moines Hotel. Hoover was on a national tour, soliciting support for his European Relief Fund. During WW I (1914-1918), Germany’s invasion of other European nations left the continent broken and hurting. Children were starving, people were dying. Hoover was given the job of bringing practical relief to this suffering, and as a good Quaker, this job of social justice hit Hoover’s sweet spot, and as an engineer, he knew exactly how to plan and orchestrate an international relief effort of this magnitude.
As Ding tells it…
I remember that I had a special objective in mind. The cartoonists of the county (I, among them) were having a terrible time trying to catch a likeness of this stranger who had suddenly captured the imagination of the public. I recall what a shock I got when I first saw Mr. Hoover that evening and realized that the cartoons that I had been drawing had not the slightest resemblance to the man on the platform.
During the earliest days of WW I (1914-1917), Ding Darling drew numerous editorial cartoons – like the ones above – raising awareness of the vast human suffering in Belgium – a project Hoover was overseeing at the time the U.S. entered the war in 1917.
To my great surprise, when I was introduced (Hoover) looked up sharply, fixed me with a penetrating eye and said, “You’re not Jay Darling, are you?” When I admitted to the crime he said, “What are you doing here?” “I live here and draw pictures for the newspapers,” I replied. His face broke into a smile as he said, “Yes, I know. You have been a great help.” That was all. And I went on down the line.
Not until ten years later (1929), after Hoover had been elected President, did Ding have any more face-to-face contacts with the man from West Branch. Again, as Ding tells it…
One afternoon a call came through from the White House to my room in the Register and Tribune building. Could I come to Washington for a week-end visit? No, he had nothing particularly in mind but he’d like to know what I was thinking about. From that time on invitations came intermittently and I got the impression that the calls came when he got fed up with the yes-men around him and wanted conversation with a free-wheeler from the uninhibited Middle West.
Those early meetings between Hoover and Ding Darling began what was to be a forty-three year correspondence between these two Iowa icons. According to journalist, Kim Knutsen…
(The) resulting friendship was based on mutual respect, a love of the outdoors, and individual political interest that often resulted in a difference of opinion. Though these differences were often made public, Hoover and Darling maintained an interesting private relationship that appeared to be based on a genuine concern for the well-being of one another.
In another post, I discussed the history of political cartooning here in Iowa. Without a doubt, the Hawkeye State has a rich tradition of turning out some of the best-known political cartoonists the world has known. Jay N. (Ding) Darling is, without question, at the top of that list.
Ding started his long career with The Des Moines Register in 1906 – you can read more here – and it ended with his retirement in 1949. Most of those years (1917-1949), Ding’s work was syndicated, meaning many newspapers around the country used his cartoons on their front pages, making his work well known far beyond Des Moines and Iowa.
As we quoted Darling saying earlier, Ding began drawing Herbert Hoover just as President Wilson put him in charge of the U.S. Food Administration (1917).
One of Ding’s earliest renditions of Hoover appeared on April 21, 1917, just as the United States was entering WW I, and Hoover had the difficult job of “food czar,” overseeing U.S. food production and distribution during wartime.
On May 24, 1917, Ding drew Hoover as the one who had to break the bad news to affluent Americans that food waste could not be tolerated in wartime. As the war ended – December 30, 1918 – Hoover was gaining national popularity for standing up to those in Europe who started the war, lost it, and now wanted international favors.
As the country drew closer to the 1928 election, Ding reflected on the growing public support for Hoover to take over for Silent Cal (Calvin Coolidge). On August 11, 1927, we see Hoover being fitted for presidential shoes, and on June 13, 1928 – as the Republican Convention convened in Kansas City – Hoover looked to be the party’s choice.
In truth. with both parties so aware of Hoover’s growing popularity, the Democrats spent a lot of 1927 trying to convince him to run on their ticket. But as it ended up, Hoover, the Secretary of Commerce, ran as the Republican candidate, while the New York governor, Al Smith, headed up the Democratic ticket.
As Hoover prepares to take office, Ding addresses the size of the task awaiting the new president – November 10, 1928 and February 28, 1929.
The battle was on: Once in office, many of Hoover’s ideas were tied up in Congress – May 12, 1929. The stock market crashed in October 1929, yet Ding gave Hoover the benefit of the doubt, showing him doubling down in response to the crisis – October 27, 1931 and December 18, 1931.
On October 4, 1932, with about a month left in the campaign, Hoover comes to Iowa. Ding points out the obvious – the weight of all this hardship weighs heavy on people’s minds.
But on Election Day 1932, the people voted and Roosevelt’s New Deal was given the thumbs up. Ding, the next day – November 9, 1932 – conveys the size of the landslide.
As both a political cartoonist and a personal friend, Ding was seemingly able to navigate the rocky transition between the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations. In his “How Will Hoover Go Down in History” sketch, Ding wonders aloud how history will treat his good friend.
Overhunting and a severe drought led to a rapid decrease in migratory birds in the early 1900s. The loss of nesting grounds in the north, resting areas along the migratory path, and wintering places in the south all contributed to the decline in the migratory bird population. President Herbert Hoover signed the Migratory Bird Conservation Act in 1929. This created a commission to evaluate the establishment of new waterfowl refuges, but didn’t grant funds to buy and preserve these wetlands.
Hoover’s friend, Ding Darling was deeply concerned over the decreased bird habitats and potential extinction of several species, so he began to incorporate the theme of wildlife conservation into some of his cartoons. His artwork soon gained attention for the cause and Ding was made chief of the Biological Service – a forerunner to the Fish and Wildlife Service. In this role, he developed the idea of issuing Duck Stamps to raise money for the purchase of wetlands.
In the early 1930’s, Darling petitioned Congress to create legislation authorizing the creation of these stamps to fund waterfowl protection, and as a result, the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act was passed, which President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law on March 16, 1934. Ding, of course, designed the first stamp issued in 1934 (see above) – a $1.00 stamp that pictured two mallard ducks preparing to land. The stamp was wildly successful, raising $635,000 for wetland conservation in the first year alone.
Allow us to close by sharing a few stories that display the level of friendship between Ding Darling and Herbert Hoover. While there were many differences between these two Iowans, one passion both men shared was their love of fishing, and it was often this activity that prompted their playful behavior.
Fish Story #1: In 1933, Hoover and Ding took a fishing trip to the Klamath River in southern Oregon, which apparently resulted in a rather large catch for Darling. On October 21, Hoover wrote to Ding, “If you want a certificate as to the fish that you took home, do not hesitate to command me. I can certify to your honest ownership of it.” On October 25, Darling responded to Hoover, “The trip back was pretty rough going but the advent of the big Steelhead Trout created its full quota of sensation.”
Hoover then, on November 5, received a letter from Gardner Cowles, publisher of The Des Moines Register, which read, “Please accept the thanks of the Cowles family for the fine trout which you sent to us by Jay Darling. The fish came through in fine condition, and it was served at a company dinner soon after its arrival in Des Moines.”
In response to this kind, but mischievous trick Hoover wrote Ding, “I have a note from Gardner Cowles expressing appreciation for the trout sent by me through one Jay Darling. I know all about this trout and so do you!”
Fish Story #2: Another “fishing” correspondence took place between Hoover and Darling in 1937, when Hoover was the volunteer Director of the Huntington Library in Pasadena. The library had wanted to reproduce cartoons of Ding’s that “proved” artistic leadership. Hoover wrote to Darling, “They can get no reply to their communications to you asking permission. As this is for your own good, please stop fishing long enough to telegraph them, and besides, take them off my back.”
Darling replied by telegraph, “What do Handbooks and Libraries of Knowledge matter when fish are biting and government disintegrated? However, since you insist, I have wired Huntington Library to do anything they darn please, just like Roosevelt.”
Fish Story #3: In the later years of Hoover and Darling, a more personal and tender aspect of their friendship was apparent. On December 26 of 1961, Hoover wrote to Ding, “My Dear Ding: At this season, life-long friends pass through one’s mind. And those whose undeviating devotion over nearly forty years rise in the first rank. So, this is just to record again my gratitude, and to wish you a happier New Year.”
One month later, when Ding was supposed to be planning a visit to Hoover in Florida for a fishing trip, he wrote, “Therapy Specialists have me so hog-tied with routine that the answer to the swell invitation for March 1st will have to be no. Letter follows.”
Unfortunately, Jay Darling died on February 12, 1962, and there is no recorded evidence of his promised letter.
In closing, perhaps the most symbolic correspondence between the two men was that of October 1955, when Ding was awarded The Iowa Award. This award represents the state’s highest citizen award. The Iowa Centennial Memorial Foundation, established in 1948 by Governor Robert D. Blue and the Iowa Legislature, created the award. The foundation wished “to encourage and recognize the outstanding service of Iowans in the fields of science, medicine, law, religion, social welfare, education, agriculture, industry, government, and other public service” and to recognize the “merit of their accomplishments in Iowa and throughout the United States.”
Ding Darling drew a sketch (below), sending it to Hoover to commemorate Darling’s award in 1955, becoming only the second recipient since the award was created in 1948. His good friend, Herbert Hoover, received the first Iowa Award in 1951.
On October 6, 1955, Hoover wrote to Ding in response:
My Dear Ding: If I could only draw I could express myself better. But as you and I are to go down the corridors of Iowa History arm in arm, I am content. It adds greatly to my character in the eyes of future Iowans. With kind regards, yours faithfully.
As we mentioned earlier, Jay N. (Ding) Darling died, at age 85, on February 12, 1962, and is buried, along with his dear wife, Genevieve Pendleton Darling, at Logan Park Cemetery in Sioux City, Iowa. Click here to read more about Ding Darling.
Herbert Clark Hoover died on October 20, 1964 (age 90), and along with his dear partner in marriage, Lou Henry Hoover, are buried on the grounds of the Herbert Hoover National Library & Museum in West Branch, Iowa. Click here to read more about Herbert Hoover.
Godspeed, my fellow Iowans. Thank you for the much-needed model of friendship, where two people with many differences can overcome them, choosing to become friends for life.
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.
Our primary source for this post:
As the proverbial statement goes: a picture is worth a thousand words. In Ding’s case, that number increases substantially.
Ding Darling was a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist whose work appeared daily on the front page of The Des Moines Register between 1906 and 1949 and also was syndicated in 135 newspapers across the country. A brief encounter with Herbert Hoover in 1919 was the beginning of a friendship that lasted until Ding’s death in 1962. After Hoover’s election as president, Ding’s relationship transitioned from one of strictly friendship to one of unofficial advisor. On at least three occasions, the Darlings were overnight guests at the White House, and while their friendship deepened after the years of the presidency, Ding did not always agree with Hoover on all of his policies.
In As Ding Saw Hoover (1954), Ding interprets the career of Hoover as food administrator, cabinet member, candidate, and president in 57 cartoons, personal recollections, and a running commentary of the times as told in the day by day headlines. In 1996, a slightly-revised paperback of the 1954 edition was released. This Iowa Heritage Collection edition included four additional cartoons and a new introduction by Timothy Walch, Director Emeritus of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, in West Branch, Iowa.
My Association with Herbert Hoover, Jay N. Darling, As Ding Saw Hoover – Introduction, The Iowa State College Press, 1954, pp 15-17
Herbert Hoover and Jay “Ding” Darling 1919-1962, Kim Knutsen, Drake University, March 3, 1991
The Iowa Awards, Ding Darling, University of Iowa Digital Library, 1955
The Iowa Award, Iowa Profile, State of Iowa
Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning, Wikipedia
Editorial Cartoons of Ding Darling, University of Iowa Library
Belgium Relief – Editorial Cartoons of Ding Darling, University of Iowa Digital Library
It’s Going To Be Universal Training for These Anyway, Ding Darling, Des Moines Register, April 21, 1917, p. 1
The Position of the Players as We Go to Press, Ding Darling, Des Moines Register, November 6, 1928, p. 1
The End of the Tiger Hunt, Ding Darling, Des Moines Register, November 7, 1928, p. 1
Surely These Two Overburdened Men Ought To Be Able To Understand Each Other, Ding Darling, Des Moines Register, October 4, 1932, p. 1
The Heck with that New Deal Stuff, Ding Darling, Des Moines Register, November 9, 1932, p. 1
From Iowa & Proud Of It, Ding Darling – Public Land Sales, Iowa Land Values 1803-1967, William G. Murray, The Palimpsest Magazine, Volume XLVIII – No. 10, October, 1967, p 473
Jay N. (Ding) Darling, Wikipedia
Jay Norwood (Ding) Darling, Find-A-Grave
Herbert Clark Hoover, Find-A-Grave
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