Monday, June 21, 2010


Obscurity of the Day: Wireless Willie

Wireless Willie is a very early radio strip, appearing less than two years after the first commercial radio broadcast in the U.S. (KDKA of Pittsburgh in November 1920). This was in the days when radio bugs built and tuned their own sets and  would spend hours fiddling around to hear a faint signal from one of the very few commercial broadcasters.

Radio was immensely popular, though, and many newspapers began running weekly, or even daily, radio pages. In these early days those pages were filled with wiring schematics and technical jargon, so a comic strip was just the thing to lighten up the dense and dreary page. There were many of them, and we've featured several on the blog (Bugs, Radiobituaries, Today's Hook-Up). 

Unlike those previously featured, Wireless Willie seems to have been a locally produced strip that ran only in the Washington Post. It ran there just four times, on April 25th and 28th and May 11th and 19th 1922. The cartoonist, C.F. Cagney, despite his crude but pleasant style and obvious comfort with the form, is otherwise unknown to me.

Thanks to Cole Johnson who supplied not only the scan for today's post but also all the data about this feature.


C.F. Cagney may be the cartoonist, Chauncey F. Cagney, who illustrated the book, "The Bull Mother Goose"; the book was published in 1912. (The book is available from Google Books as a PDF.)

Cagney was born in Jersey City, New Jersey around September 1892 according to the 1900 US Federal Census. In the 1910 Census Cagney was working in the printing industry where he was making signs. In the April 4, 1913 edition of the Jersey Journal, there was an article about a minstrel show by the Alpine Lodge; there was a credit for "C.F. Cagney, artist of cut on showcards." By 1920 he was an artist working for an advertising company; he was still living in Jersey City. Ten years later Cagney was still working as a commercial artist.
Correction: The title of Chauncey Cagney's book is "The Bull Moose Mother Goose"
Article in the "Jersey Journal," November 5, 1912, page 3

Heights Artist Illustrated Bull Moose Book

A Jersey City boy, Chauncey F. Cagney, son of former Assemblyman David H. Cagney of 150 Bowers Street, has the distinction of having won in an open contest the contract for drawing the illustrations and cartoons in the "Bull Moose Mother Goose Book," a pamphlet of sixty-four pages of witty rhymes sold throughout the country for the benefit of the Roosevelt campaign fund.

Young Mr. Cagney, who is only 26 years old, is a student in a New York art school. He is studying to become an illustrator and cartoonist. His work has already attracted the attention of critics and the scores of clever illustrations in the "Bull Moose Mother Goose Book" mark him as a young man of undoubted talent.

The jingles and rhymes in the book were written by Miss Sallie Macrum Cabbage, a member of the smart set of Pittsburg, and a relative of the Thaw family.
Thanks for the bio, Alex! Sounds like Cagney wasn't based in Washington after all, so Wireless Willie might well have been a syndicated item. Unfortunately we have no additional clues as yet to say which syndicate he worked for.

I looked at the Washington Post, May 11 and 19, 1922 pages with the "Wireless Willie" comic strip. The strips were printed in a daily feature page called, "Radio Broadcasting News," which had programming information, answers to questions, how-to articles and humor related to radio. The illustrations were schematics, diagrams, cartoons and sometimes photographs. There was no syndication information on Cagney's strip, so his strip was probably done expressly for the Post. In the May 16 edition, there was a single panel cartoon, signed by Cagney, in "Radio Broadcasting News." [Check your email for the attachment; subject: Cagney.]

Searching through I did not find any military draft information, an obituary or a Social Security Death Index report for Chauncey F. Cagney. However, there was a Charles Frances Cagney who was born on October 5, 1922 in Jersey City, New Jersey. (The birth date is very close to the 1900 Census birth date of September 1922 for Chauncey.) This information is from a World War I draft registration card dated June 1, 1917. Charles was living in Duluth, Minnesota at the time. Charles died in May 1970 in Washington, D.C. He had applied for his Social Security number in Virginia. I believe Chauncey and Charles were the same person.

Looking at the 1930 Census, Chauncey and his younger sister, Margaret, were living together in Jersey City; she was born on November 10, 1893. Margaret passed away in November 1968 in Washington, D.C.
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