The Wasp


Looking for an entertaining and historical way to spend a few hours? Time will fly while you peruse the pages of The Wasp, San Francisco’s premier satiric periodical, digitized by the California State Library and available online at the Internet Archive.

The weekly Wasp began publication in August 1876 and continued into the 20th century; the online collection goes up to 1920. As stated in its first issue, “Its mission, as the name will indicate, signifies a busy,  industrious life, ever on the wing in search of news and ever ready to inflict a justifiable sting upon those who will abuse public trust.” It sought to be “fearless, bold, and independent, not owned or controlled by any men or party of men . . .” and took jabs equally at Democrats, Republicans, and third parties.

It was notable for its outstanding full-page color political cartoons and numerous line sketches and comics. I’ll show you some of these in upcoming posts. Many are now obscure, referring to long-dead controversies and long-forgotten public figures. But others are timeless and a delight to behold. Here’s one — the cover of the January 1st, 1881 issue:


The decade of the 1870’s had been a tough one, overshadowed by the Panic of 1873 and the Long Depression that lasted through the decade. Here California looks to the dawn of a brighter day as Hard Times fade away behind her. California is depicted as she is on the State Seal, as Minerva, goddess of wisdom, with the California grizzly bear at her feet and her shield embossed with the miner’s pick and shovel.

I hope you’ll enjoy The Wasp as much as I have.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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