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Ray Thompson Papers

An inventory of his Papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MRR
Date: 12 Mar 2006

Biographical History

Ray Thompson (1905-1982) was an American cartoonist and artist.

Ray Thompson was born in Philadelphia, PA, on July 9th, 1905, to Francis R. and Kathryn (Mahla) Thompson. He attended public schools, graduating from Northeast High School in 1924 and then spent three years studying journalism and liberal arts at Temple University in Philadelphia. To augment his college education over the years, he attended a variety of trade and art schools such as the Spring Garden Institute, the Charles Morris Price School of Advertising and Journalism, the School of Industrial Art and the Tyler Art School. In the autumn of 1926, after attampting in vain to land a job at any of the city’s newspapers, he decided to try freelancing. He had been drawing cartoons since grade school and sold his first piece at the age of 15. In his downtown studio, he turned out cartoons for the then-Philadelphia-based Saturday Evening Post, as well as the Ladies Home Journal, Country Gentleman, Life, Judge, Colliers, and various other publications. He pioneered the field of cartoon advertising and created many national advertising campaigns using the humorous approach. Some of his national accounts were the Atlantic Refining Co. (the "Three Little Men" campaign for the N.W. Ayer Advertising Agency, 1940s-1950s), Kellogg’s Cereals, Freihofer Bread, Sun Oil Co., SaniFlush, Slinky, and Richardson’s Mints.

While the mainstay of his work was in the burgeoning field of cartoon advertising, Thompson also continued with his writing, turning out radio scripts and feature stories in addition to "ghosting" several well-known comic strips ("The Shadow," "Roy Powers, Eagle Scout," and "Connie," all in 1935). In 1936 he created his own adventure strip, "Myra North, Special Nurse," illustrated by the Cleveland, Ohio NEA staff artist Charles Coll. This feature appeared in 466 newspapers until 1941. Other strips for national syndicates included a daily strip and Sunday page of "Somebody’s Stenog" (1932-1934, Ledger Syndicate, about 150 newspapers), "Annabelle’s Answers" (advice to the lovelorn, 1934, Ledger Syndicate), "Your Dreams" (George Matthew Adams Syndicate, NY), and "Doodle-Bug Heads" for the Philadelphia Bulletin. In 1945, he originated a one-panel cartoon strip, "Homer the Ghost," for the New York Herald Tribune Syndicate. This cartoon was also syndicated in newspapers all over the United States and South America and ran for several years.

Over the years, Thompson also created a vast assortment of games, puzzles, children’s items, gift novelties, stationery and silhouette prints. Beginning in the 1940s, he drew 750 comic strips for the Fleer Dubble Bubble Gum wrappers. He drew a weekly cartoon for Tap and Tavern (trade publication for the liquor industry) which endured for 34 years (1942-1975). He created "Hap Hazard," a humorous safety poster character for the Asplundh Tree Expert Company. His cartoon "Odd Job Ozzie" appeared in the Reading Railroad Magazine every month from 1927 to 1959; many of these have recently been reprinted in a 1997 book by Benjamin Bernhard, "The Reading Railroad and Its Cartoon Art." Thompson also illustrated countless brochures and booklets and lettered thousands of testimonial scrolls and awards.

After transferring his studio to Wyncote, PA (a few miles north of Philadelphia), he became increasingly interested in the local history of the area and wrote a weekly column for the local newspaper. This led to many of his feature articles – largely concerning Revolutionary War history – being published in various newspapers and magazines from 1959 on.

In 1963 he self-published the first of his nine books, You Can Draw a Straight Line. In 1965 he moved to Fort Washington and three years later began to publish his historical works via his own Bicentennial Press. This "one-man" ef fort included everything from illustrations, maps and photos to copy, layout and paste-up pages for the printer. (Although he did not physically man the printing presses, he had even tried his hand at that in the early 1950s, printing various engravings of his Doodle-Bug Heads.) After his retirement in the 1970s, he did his own book promotion, advertising, and eventually shipping of books that were ordered. These publications are in hundreds of libraries across the country and have been used in secondary schools as supplemental historical text material.

As one of his many hobbies, beginning in the late 1940s, Thompson began to paint various local scenes. Although watercolor was his preferred medium, he also experimented with oil and pastel renditions. Some of these paintings, which number well over 100, have been exhibited over the years, most recently in 1984 at the Cliveden House in the Germantown section of Philadelphia.

Ray Thompson has been cited in several editions of Who’s Who in the East as well as in Notable Americans of 1976-77. In 1978, he was honored by the Historical Society of Fort Washington (PA) as the recipient of that organization’s annual Heritage Award. He was also a member of the Valley Forge Historical Society and the Montgomery County (PA) Historical Society, and contributed to the Bicentennial History of Montgomery County (published in 1984). Other activities included addressing the Old York Road Art Guild (Jenkintown, PA) and presenting live "chalk-talk" presentations at the former Willow Grove Amusement Park in the 1950s. He also taught cartooning at the Cheltenham Adult School (Elkins Park, PA). Beginning in December 1966, representations of his work have been housed at Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY under the title of "The Ray Thompson Collection."

In September 1929, Ray Thompson married Helen E. MacCleery (1909-1997) with whom he had two daughters, Patricia Rae and Elisabeth June, and one son, Hugh Roy. Ray Thompson died in 1982, leaving an unfinished work, "The Golden Era of Newspaper Comics, 1900-1930" [Biography provided by his son, H. Roy Thompson, son and estate executor].

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Ray Thompson Papers encompasses the artwork of the American cartoonist (1905-1982), in the form of both commercial and non-commercial material as well as original artwork.

The majority of the collection is made up of Thompson’s Artwork (1927-1971) that consists of original, commercial and non-commercial art. Cartoons comprises syndicated comics and comic strips (Homer, Smart and Alec, Kar Kracks), World War II-related material, and miscellaneous individual cartoons.

Thompson also ran a successful advertising business, using the cartoon-style approach to advertise everything from nylons to hams. Commercial art (1935-1972) comprises newspaper, magazine, comic book, catalog and other advertising art for a variety of clients including Adjustified (furniture adjusters), Asplundh (trucking), Atlantic Refining Company (oil), Fleer’s Dubble Bubble Gum (including a number of the cartoon inserts), Freihofer Bread, and KYW (radio station).

Thompson also produced a range of material for non-commercial purposes, such as programs for lectures, material for conventions and meetings, and small graphics for newsletters or trade publications. Non-commercial art includes material for clients such as Abington Memorial Hospital, the American Management Society, Tap and Tavern, the trade publication of the beer and liquor industry, and an interesting set of cartoons for the U.S. Naval Reserve, designed to assist their research as to why young men were not enlisting. Thompson also wrote and published art instruction material such as U-Doodle-It and The Doodler’s Diary, and local history material, particularly related to the Revolutionary War. Original artwork comprises sketches, watercolors, presentation drawings, doodles, tracings and other original material in amongst Non-commercial art .

Biographical material (1919-1978) includes a brief biographical statement, a letter to Thompson from cartoonist C.A. Briggs which, according to an accompanying note from Thompson, "launched my career," and a paper presented before the Historical Society of Fort Washington on the occasion of Thompson’s receiving their 16th Annual Heritage Award. There is also one folder of material on Thompson’s studio, including his own advertisements offering his talents.

Inventory includes an original inventory prepared by Thompson dated Dec. 1966, and a more general overview of inventory prepared by the library. These inventories do not reflect later additions and processing of the collection and should be used for historical purposes only.

Memorabilia (1932-1979) contains clippings, including newspaper articles about Thompson and/or his work. Newspaper and magazine clippings can also be found throughout the collection.

Arrangement of the Collection

Material within each series is arranged in alphabetical order.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

The Story of Gimpy Gale from Curtis Publishing Company was removed from the collection and transferred to Rare Books for cataloging.

The Library also has the papers of a number of other American cartoonists. See the SCRC Subject Index for a complete listing.

Subject Headings


Thompson, Ray

Corporate Bodies

United States. -- Naval Reserve Force -- Caricatures and cartoons.


American wit and humor, Pictorial.
Cartoonists -- United States.
Cartoons and comics.
Commercial art -- United States.
World War, 1939-1945 -- Caricatures and cartoons.


Philadelphia Region (Pa.) -- History, Local.

Genres and Forms

Cartoons (humorous images)
Clippings (information artifacts)
Commercial art.



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Ray Thompson Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Ray Thompson, 1978.

Table of Contents


Biographical material