Pitt’s Library System Digitizes, Mounts Works of Fred Wright, Noted Labor Cartoonist

Issue Date: 
September 30, 2009

The work of Fred Wright, one of America’s most-renowned labor cartoonists, has been digitized and mounted online by the University of Pittsburgh Library System (ULS). The new Web site, titled “Drawing on the American Labor Movement,” features Wright’s entire Labor History Series in addition to some of his other works. It is accessible at http://images.library.pitt.edu/f/fredwright/.

Wright’s career as a cartoonist began in the U.S. Army in 1939, but he is best known for his work for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE), one of the country’s largest independent labor unions, still headquartered in Pittsburgh. From 1949 until his death in 1984, Wright created thousands of cartoons for the union’s newspaper, the UE News, as well as for other publications. He also designed leaflets, strike placards, and animated cartoons about organizing for the American labor movement.

In the spirit of the movement, Wright’s early cartoons criticized governmental anti-union actions like the Taft-Hartley Act, as well as McCarthyism. His Labor History Series cartoons—177 in all—first appeared in the UE News from 1956 through 1961 and an expanded version ran during the 1970s. They illustrate the conflicts and hardships that workers faced during the American labor movement from the Colonial period to the Vietnam War. When published, each cartoon contained three panels and was accompanied by text written by UE News photographer and reporter James Lerner.

The specific digital images on the new site are of publication plates, or cut-and-paste pages, used by Wright to lay out a proof of his original cartoon along with Lerner’s text.

Wright’s materials are in Pitt’s Archives Service Center, 7500 Thomas Blvd., Point Breeze, which is the national repository for the records of the UE, including a collection called “Photographs from the UE News Photograph Collection,” which can be accessed at http://images.library.pitt.edu/u/ue/.

The Archives Service Center also houses the Archives of Industrial Society, which comprises historical records pertaining to the labor history of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.