John Held Jr. Draws for the New Haven

John Held Jr. was a well-known cartoonist and illustrator in the 1920s. Born in Salt Lake City in 1889 (the same year, for those who are keeping track, as Maurice Logan), Held claimed he had no art training except from his father and from Mahonri Young, a grandson of Brigham Young. Yet he sold his first illustration to pre-Henry Luce Life magazine at age 15 and claimed to have sold other drawings even earlier.

This 1924 poster is the earliest I could find by Held. Unlike most of the other posters, it is aimed at travelers to the south rather than to the north. Click image to view a 990×1,487 JPG of this poster.

By age 16, he had a job as cartoonist for the Salt Lake City Tribune. He moved to New York in 1912 and soon became nationally famous for his cover art on such magazines as Life and Vanity Fair. By the time the New Haven Railroad asked him to illustrate posters and booklets in the mid-1920s, he was well known for both making fun of the prim “Gay Nineties” and for illustrations that effectively defined the “Roaring Twenties.”

Like the previous poster, this 1925 Nantucket ad features Held’s hand-drawn letters. Click image to view a 1,012×1,500 JPG of this poster.

The New Haven was an amalgamation of dozens of northeaster railroads that had been put together by Charles Mellon in an overt attempt to monopolize New England rail transport. Some of the rail lines were profitable, but some were very weak, a fact that sent the railroad into bankruptcy in 1893, 1935, and 1961.

This 1926 poster is typical of the cartoon style that Held used to define a generation. Click image to view a 1,005×1,500 JPG of this poster.

Serving one of the most densely populated regions of the country, the New Haven depended heavily on passenger service that fluctuated in response to the economy and declined in response to the growth of the automobile. Commuter trains, day trains, and overnight trains were all featured on the railroad, forcing it to invest heavily in equipment and infrastructure.

This 1930 poster is also in Held’s cartoon style. Click image to view a 1.2-MB 2,435×3,628 JPG of this poster.

Held’s posters were all in the pre-streamliner era, of course. But the bright colors presaged the colorful trains that railroads such as the New Haven would be running in the next few decades.

This map also has cartoons, but because of their size they aren’t as effective as those in the previous two posters. Click image to view a 1.2-MB 2,435×3,628 JPG of this poster.

Held painted posters for the New Haven for about a decade. He continued to work for magazines and other clients, but a combination of the Depression and changing fashions led his popularity to fade. He died in 1958 at the relatively young age of 69.

This special poster encourages people to ride New Haven trains to where they can have an optimal view of a total solar eclipse that took place in the afternoon of August 31, 1932. Click image to view a 985×1,472 JPG.

This poster features cartoons, a colorful illustration at bottom, and hand lettering by Held. Click image to view a 1.4-MB 2,472×3,663 JPG of this poster.

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