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Smith, Sidney

Robert Sidney "Sid" Smith (1873-1935) was born in Bloomington, Illinois, on February 13, 1873. His father Thomas H. Smith was one of the city's earliest and most successful dentists, as well as operating a lumber mill outside the city limits. His father wanted him to be a dentist; however, Sid attended but never graduated from Bloomington High School. He recalled, "But to be a dentist I had to study, and school and I never agreed. ... I was about 17, I think, when I saw a schoolroom for the last time."

Sid Smith's artistic talent was recognized early, and around age 18, he began contributing sketches and cartoons to The Sunday Eye, an illustrated newspaper in Bloomington. Unable to obtain a regular job, he went on the "lecture circuit," traveling from town to town giving chalk talks, riding freight trains when he had no money for transportation. He finally obtained a regular job with the Indianapolis News and worked for newspapers in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Toledo before working in Chicago for the Examiner. In 1911, he joined the art staff of The Chicago Tribune. He drew many cartoon strips in the early years, including "The Bunk of a Busy Brain," "Self Made Heroes," "Light Occupations," and "Old Doc Yak."

In 1917 he began drawing "The Gumps" as a strip to portray everyday life of the American family. The creation of the chinless patriarch Andy Gump assured Sidney Smith's fame as a cartoonist. Andy's family was comprised of his wife Minerva ("Min"), their son Chester, and a cast of lovingly rendered supporting characters, including Tilda the maid and wealthy Uncle Bim. Andy Gump received Old Doc Yak's racing car, no. 348. Smith's license plate number was 348, one of Illinois' first vanity plates. "The Gumps" was the first major strip to move from the joke-a-day format toward one with a narrative flow; thus Smith fashioned a comedic soap opera of domestic life.

Financially, "The Gumps" was highly successful. In the spring of 1922, Smith signed a $1 million contract ($100,000 for 10 years guaranteed) with the Tribune. (Calculated in 2019 dollars, his contract was $15.5 million for $1,550,534 per annum.) By comparison, the highest paid comic strip artist, Bud Fisher for "Mutt and Jeff," was paid $50,000 a year. As a bonus, Smith received a Rolls-Royce. Sid Smith divided his time between a Gold Coast residence in Chicago; an estate on the south shore of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin; a smaller place "Forty Acres" near Genoa City, Wisconsin; and a 2,200-acre farm in the northern Illinois community of Shirland.

This collection includes newspaper clippings about Sidney Smith's life and career, examples of his artwork and his comic strip "The Gumps."

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