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The Gumps, a popular comic strip about a middle-class family, was created by Sidney Smith in 1917, launching a 42-year run in newspapers from February 12, 1917, until October 17, 1959.

According to a 1937 issue of Life, The Gumps was inspired by Andy Wheat, real-life person Smith met through his brother. “Born forty-seven years ago [i.e., in 1890] in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, Andy Wheat acquired his unusual physiognomy as the result of an infection following the extraction of a tooth, which eventually necessitated the removal of his entire lower jaw. Through Dr. Thomas Smith of Bloomingdale, Illinois, a dentist and a brother of Sidney Smith, Wheat met the cartoonist, who saw in him an ideal comic character. Wheat subsequently had his surname legally changed to “Gump” to match the cartoon character. His wife’s name is Min, and he has two children, Chester and Goliath, now living in San Francisco, and an Uncle Bim who lives in Georgia. Gump’s home is in Tucson, Arizona, but he also has a farm near his birthplace in Mississippi.”  gumps05

The Gumps were utterly ordinary: chinless, bombastic blowhard Andy Gump (short for Andrew), who is henpecked by his wife, Min (short for Minerva); their sons Sam and baby James; wealthy Uncle Jim; and their annoying maid Mary. They had a cat named Hope and a dog named Buck. The idea was envisioned by Joseph Patterson, editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune, who was important in the early histories of Little Orphan Annie and other long-run comic strips. Patterson referred to the masses as “gumps” and thought a strip about the domestic lives of ordinary people and their ordinary activities would appeal to the average American newspaper reader. He hired Smith to write and draw the strip, and it was Smith who breathed life into the characters. Smith was the first cartoonist to kill off a regular character: His May 1929 storyline about the death of Mary Gold caused a national sensation.

The Gumps made its debut in an unusual way. Cartoonist Sidney Smith had previously drawn and written Old Doc Yak, a talking-animal strip that sustained only a brief run. The very last Old Doc Yak strip depicted Yak and his family moving out of their house, while wondering who might move into the house next. On Thursday, February 8, 1917, the last panel showed only the empty house. On Monday, February 12, 1917, after the Gumps were introduced in the space formerly occupied by Old Doc Yak, they moved into the house formerly occupied by the Yak family. (Old Doc Yak would reappear as a topper for The Gumps Sunday page from 1930-34.)

gumps03The Gumps had a key role in the rise of syndication when Robert R. McCormick and Patterson, who had both been publishing the Chicago Tribune since 1914, planned to launch a tabloid in New York, as comics historian Coulton Waugh explained:
So originated on June 16, 1919, the Illustrated Daily News, a title which, as too English, was almost at once clipped to Daily News. It was a picture paper, and it was a perfect setting for the newly developed art of the comic strip. The first issue shows but a single strip, The Gumps. It was the almost instant popularity of this famous strip that directly brought national syndication into being. Midwestern and other papers began writing to the Chicago Tribune, which also published The Gumps, requesting to be allowed to use the new comic, and the result was that the heads of the two papers collaborated and founded the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate, which soon was distributing Tribune-News features to every nook and cranny of the country.

A gift from the Tribune management to Smith was a large statue of Andy Gump, which stood on Smith’s Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, estate. After Smith died in 1935, the statue was moved to a city park. In 1943, the statue was acquired by the city of Lake Geneva, but it was destroyed in 1967 during a drunken riot. It was replaced with a new statue, which was stolen in 1989 and again replaced. A plaque honoring Smith was also stolen from Lake Geneva in 1952, but it was later found. The statue is currently on display at the Lake Geneva Museum.

Hockey great Gump Worsley, born Lorne Worsley, was nicknamed for his resemblance to Andy Gump.

Jazz musician Min Leibrook, born Wilford Leibrook, received his nickname from Andy Gump’s wife, Min.

48 strips 1921
201 strips 1922
26 strips 1924
52 strips 1926
18 strips 1929
56 strips 1931
55 strips 1933

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85 strips 1935
17 strips 1937
11 strips 1938
232 strips 1939
304 strips 1940
13 strips 1946
79 strips unsorted

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