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"Ding" Darling

cartoonist and conservationist

Ding Darling

Early Life

Jay Norwood Darling was born in Norwood, Michigan, on October 21, 1876. His father, Marcellus Darling, was a Congregational minister and moved the family to postings in Cambria, Michigan, and Elkhart, Indiana, before settling in Sioux City, Iowa, when Jay was ten. He developed passions for both drawing and conservation at an early age, and would pursue both throughout most of his life.

Darling's passion for nature led him to consider pursuing a medical career, and he began his studies at Yankton College in South Dakota in 1894. He was dismissed from the college in his first year, however, after he and some of his friends "borrowed" the college president's horse and buggy for a "night on the town." He resumed his pre-medical studies at Beloit College in Wisconsin the following year, but his focus shifted after he became art editor for the college yearbook. He began using "Ding" to sign his work at this time. Despite being suspended for a time after publishing caricatures of respected professors, Darling graduated in 1900.


Darling was still considering a medical career after graduating from Beloit, and took a job with the Sioux City Journal in order to save money for medical school. The medical aspirations ended, however, after a local attorney refused to have his picture taken for a story. The paper ran the story using a sketch of the attorney drawn by Darling, and the sketch proved so popular that Darling was engaged to do a series on Sioux City characters called "Local Snapshots." This series led the Journal to employ Darling as the daily cartoonist. His cartoons supporting Journal editor George D. Perkins for Governor in 1904 received statewide attention, and that attention led to Darling being hired by the Des Moines Register and Leader (later the Des Moines Register) in 1906. The editor, Gardner Cowles, gave Darling complete artistic and editorial freedom, and his reputation grew.

In 1911, Darling accepted a position at the New York Globe so that his work could reach a larger audience through its new national syndication service. He was unhappy at the Globe, however, where he was pressured to draw cartoons that reflected its editorial views and asked to do comic strips. In 1913, he returned to the Register and Leader, and remained its lead cartoonist until 1949. The Register and Leader could not offer syndication, but, after initial resistance, Cowles permitted Darling to syndicate his cartoons through the New York Herald Tribune. In 1916 Darling signed a ten-year contract with that syndicate, which had 130 client newspapers. Part of this contract required him to spend several days a month in New York, so the family lived there in 1918-1919, before returning to Des Moines for good.

Darling's editorial cartoons earned him two Pulitzer Prizes, in 1924 for "In Good Old U.S.A." and 1942 for "What a place for a waste paper salvage campaign."

In Good Old U.S.A.


In addition to politics and politicians, Darling also used his drawing skills to draw attention to his other passion, conservation. His first conservation-themed cartoon was published in support of President Theodore Roosevelt's campaign for establishment of a forestry service. Roosevelt found an ally in Darling, and the two became good friends. Darling used his drawings to promote issues of conservation and bring national attention to environmental concerns. Most important to Darling were issues of wildlife exploitation and the destruction of waterfowl habitat.

one of Darling's conservation cartoons

In 1934 Darling was recruited by President Franklin Roosevelt to serve on the President's Committee for Wild Life Restoration, which was supposed to prepare a plan to direct funds into a new wildlife program to replace the Bureau of Biological Survey (now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). The committee instead reported that the work could be accomplished with the Bureau so long as it was funded properly. The committee proposed that the federal government issue receipts, in the form of attractive stamps, to licensed hunters. The profits from these stamps would then go to maintaining waterfowl life in the United States. Congress accepted the committee's proposal, passing the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act that same year. Darling designed the very first "Duck Stamp" issued under the act, and "Duck Stamps" continue to provide significant funding for conservation programs today.

the very first Duck Stamp

In 1935 Darling accepted Roosevelt's offer to head the Bureau of Biological Survey, in which capacity he oversaw implementation of the "Duck Stamp Program." He also drastically cut waterfowl bag limits and seasons to help dwindling waterfowl populations, and was instrumental in getting three million acres of public land set aside as wildlife refuges.

Darling resigned his federal post after only eighteen months because he had difficulty with the politics required for the job. He did not, however, ease his conservation work. In 1936 he convinced President Roosevelt to call the first North American Wildlife Conference, which addressed the need for an organization to unite and speak for the diverse individuals and groups seeking to protect wildlife and wild places. From that conference and Darling's vision grew the General Wildlife Federation (now the National Wildlife Federation), with Darling as its first president. Darling also had a leading role in ensuring passage of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, also known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, which provides money to states for the purchase of game habitat and to help fund wildlife research through a tax on sporting firearms and ammunition.

Later Life and Legacy

A series of major health problems forced Darling to cut back on his activities in the mid-1940's. He died in Des Moines on February 12, 1962. His lifelong work for wildlife conservation was immortalized in 1978 with the dedication of the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Reserve on Sanibel Island, Florida, (one of his favorite bird-watching locations).

Fish and Wildlife Service
National Wildlife Federation
University of Iowa

President Theodore Roosevelt
President Franklin Roosevelt

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The Robinson Library >> Fine Arts >> Pictorial Humor, Caricature, Etc.

This page was last updated on 09/26/2017.