Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Man Who Built America:

Thomas Aloysius Dorgan

While spiffing up one of my MySpace profiles, I was skimming through some color plates in my copy of The Big Book of American Irish Culture, Bob Callahan, editor* and read up on the source of the plate I was turning into website wallpaper. And what do I find? The cartoonist of the panel I really admired is from San Francisco, baby!

Thomas A. Dorgan

(April 29, 1877 [citation needed] - May 2, 1929[1])("Thomas Aloysius Dorgan," "Tad Dorgan", "TAD") was an American cartoonist who signed his drawings as TAD. He is credited with coining more popular words and expressions than anyone else.

He was born in San Francisco. When he was thirteen years old, he lost the last three fingers of his right hand in an accident with a factory machine. He took up drawing for therapy. A year later at the age of 14 he joined the art staff of the San Francisco Bulletin. By 1902 he was not only the top sports cartoonist for the New York Journal, but also a reporter and sportswriter. Jack Dempsey described him as "the greatest authority on boxing".

Dorgan is generally credited with either creating or popularizing such words and expressions as "dumbbell" (a stupid person); "for crying out loud" (an exclamation of astonishment); "cat's meow" and "cat's pajamas" (as superlatives); "applesauce" (nonsense); "cheaters" (eyeglasses); "skimmer" (a hat); "hard-boiled" (a tough person); "drugstore cowboy" (loafers or ladies' men); "nickel-nurser" (a miser); "as busy as a one-armed paperhanger" (overworked); and "Yes, we have no bananas," which was turned into a popular song.

His New York Times obituary brackets him with George Ade and Ring Lardner as popularizers of "a new slang vernacular," and also credits him as originator of "Twenty-three, Skidoo," "solid ivory," "Dumb Dora," "finale hopper," "Benny" for hat and "dogs'" for shoes.[1]

(A sample of TADs style found on

From that site:

When he was thirteen years old, Thomas Aloysius Dorgan lost the last three fingers of his right hand in an accident with a factory machine. While recuperating, he drew a lot of cartoons as manual therapy. A year later, he found himself a job as staff artist on the San Francisco Bulletin. In 1902, he was employed by the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle, where he created his first weekly comic strip, 'Johnny Wise'. He was hired away by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst and put to work at the New York Journal as a sports cartoonist.

(More of TAD at an Ohio State University collection.)

*The mere fact that this book is in my personal library, along with the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture and the indispensable Encyclopedia of Bad Taste, is really all you need to know about me.