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Adams, Franklin P. (15 November 1881–23 March 1960), newspaper columnist, humorist, and radio personality, was born Franklin Pierce Adams in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Moses Adams, a dry-goods merchant, and Clara Schlossberg, both German-Jewish immigrants. During his childhood he was an avid reader of the classics, history, nineteenth-century fiction, and light verse. He studied mathematics and science at the Armour Scientific Academy in Chicago, graduating in 1899. He attended the University of Michigan for less than a year, during which he studied literature and after which he began to earn his own living....

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Ade, George (09 February 1866–16 May 1944), humorist, was born in Kentland, Indiana, the son of John Ade, a farmer and bank cashier who was from England, and Adaline Wardell Bush. Ade liked his village school and showed promise in composition classes, hated the farm work his parents assigned him to help with family finances, and received a partial scholarship to attend Purdue, the newly established agricultural and mechanical college in Lafayette, Indiana. His four years there (1883–1887) were both enjoyable and valuable. He studied with reasonable conscientiousness, joined a literary society and the Sigma Chi social fraternity, edited for a semester the student-run monthly literary magazine called the ...

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Ameringer, Oscar (04 August 1870–05 November 1943), humorist and socialist editor, was born in a Swabian village in Germany, the son of August Ameringer, a cabinetmaker. His mother’s maiden name was Hoffman, and she was the previously widowed owner of a twelve-acre farm. Relocated to Laupheim, Ameringer grew up in the relative comfort of the lower middle class, yet he despised the religiosity and anti-Semitism of his Lutheran schooling. An instinctive antimonarchist, storyteller, and musician, he seized his first opportunity, at age sixteen, to flee to the United States. There he would become the “Mark Twain of American socialism,” a famed literary comedian, stage entertainer, and labor and political organizer....

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Armour, Richard Willard (15 July 1906–28 February 1989), educator and satirist, was born in San Pedro, California, the son of Harry Willard Armour, a drugstore owner, and Sue Wheelock. He earned a B.A. degree from Pomona College in 1927 and an M.A. from Harvard in 1928. In 1932 he married Kathleen Fauntleroy Stevens, with whom he had two children....

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Bagby, George William (13 August 1828–29 November 1883), journalist and humorist, was born in Buckingham County, Virginia, the son of George Bagby, a merchant, and Virginia Young Evans. A frail constitution forced Virginia Bagby to move to the mountain town of Covington, where she died when George was eight years old. Bagby’s father, who owned a general merchandise store in Lynchburg, sent him and his younger sister to live on the Cumberland County plantation of their aunt, Elisabeth Hobson. In 1843, at the age of fifteen, Bagby entered Delaware College. He then studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated in 1849....

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Baldwin, Joseph Glover (21 January 1815–30 September 1864), attorney and author, was born in Friendly Grove Factory, Virginia, the son of Joseph Clarke Baldwin, a mill owner, and Eliza Cook. He was educated at Staunton Academy (Virginia), where he learned Latin and read widely in English and American authors. He left school at fourteen and became a clerk in the chancery court. This experience turned him toward a legal career, and after private study and law school he qualified as a lawyer at twenty. Baldwin also worked for a time as a newspaperman in Virginia and suffered a disappointment in love. In March 1836 he set out for the “Southwest”—specifically Alabama and Mississippi....

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Bangs, John Kendrick (27 May 1862–21 January 1922), humorist, editor, and lecturer, was born in Yonkers, New York, the son of Francis Nehemiah Bangs, a lawyer, and Frances Amelia Bull, and the grandson of Nathan Bangs, a Methodist clergyman. His ancestors were domineering and ferocious personalities whose achievements overshadowed Bangs’s career, and his perennial reluctance to take either religion or law seriously can be seen as a mild rebellion....

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Bemelmans, Ludwig (27 April 1898–01 October 1962), writer and illustrator, was born in Meran in Tyrol, Austria (now Italy), the son of the Belgian painter Lambert Bemelmans, and Frances Fischer from Regensburg, Germany. He spent his early childhood in Gmunden on the Traunsee, Upper Austria, where his father owned a hotel. French was his first language, German his second. In 1904 his father abandoned the family, running off with Ludwig’s governess. The mother moved with her two sons to her native Regensburg on the Danube, where her father owned a brewery and beer garden. Bemelmans rebelled against the strict German discipline. After repeatedly failing the first grade of the Gymnasium (equivalent to the American fifth grade), he was sent to a boarding school in Rothenburg, and after failing there as well, was apprenticed to his uncle Hans Bemelmans in Austria to learn the hotel trade. After a serious altercation with a hotel manager (the nature of which is in dispute), he was shipped off to America, where his father had become a jewelry designer....

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Robert Benchley. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-108029).

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Benchley, Robert (15 September 1889–21 November 1945), humorist, drama critic, and actor, was born Robert Charles Benchley in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of Charles H. Benchley, the mayor’s clerk, and Maria Jane Moran. After the death of his older brother Edmund in the Spanish-American War, an event that stunned Benchley’s family, Edmund’s fiancée, Lillian Duryea, largely financed Robert’s education. Benchley attended Phillips Exeter Academy, where his bent for satire early revealed itself when his assigned essay on “a practical subject,” embalming, earned an ...

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Billings, Josh (21 April 1818–14 October 1885), humorist and author, was born Henry Wheeler Shaw in Lanesboro, Massachusetts, the son of Henry Shaw, a state and national legislator, and Laura Wheeler. Billings grew up in the Berkshire Hills in a prosperous, active family that enjoyed state and national political connections. Indeed, both his paternal grandfather, Dr. Samuel Shaw, and his father served in the U.S. Congress, and his father was a Massachusetts legislator for twenty-five years. Billings attended Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, during 1833–1834, but he was expelled during his sophomore year for climbing the lightning rod on the chapel and removing the bell clapper....

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Bombeck, Erma (21 February 1927–22 April 1996), humorist and television personality, was born Erma Fiste in Dayton, Ohio, the only child of Cassius Fiste, a municipal laborer, and Erma Haines Fiste. Her father died when she was nine and her mother then went to work for General Motors in Dayton. Later her mother was remarried, to Tom Harris, who also worked at GM. Erma began her journalism career while attending Patterson Vocational High School, where she wrote a humor column for the school newspaper and worked part time in a secretarial position at the ...

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Browne, Charles Farrar (26 April 1834–06 March 1867), author and lecturer, known by the pseudonym Artemus Ward, was born in Waterford, Maine, the son of Levi Brown, a surveyor, farmer, and justice of the peace, and Caroline Farrar. (Charles added the e to his surname about 1861.) He seems to have been educated in local schools until 1847, when his father died and he went to work as a printer. In 1851 he was in Boston, setting type for the ...

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Buchwald, Art (20 October 1925–17 January 2007), journalist and humorist, was born Arthur Buchwald in Mount Vernon, New York. His father, Joseph Buchwald, a Jewish immigrant from Austria, was a draper in New York City; his mother, Helen Klineberger, whom he never met, was placed in a mental hospital shortly after Arthur’s birth and remained institutionalized for the rest of her life. Arthur was the couple’s fourth child and only son....

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Burgess, Gelett (30 January 1866–18 September 1951), author, editor, and illustrator, was born Frank Gelett Burgess in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Thomas Harvey Burgess, a well-to-do painting contractor, and Caroline Matilda Brooks, a genteel Unitarian. After graduating from the English High School in Boston, Burgess attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned his B.S. in 1887. To avoid perceived restrictions of life in New England, he became a draftsman on survey work with the Southern Pacific Railroad (1888–1891), hiked and sketched his way through France and Spain, and instructed topographical drawing at the University of California at Berkeley (1891–1894). He was dismissed from his academic post for pulling down a cast-iron statue of Henry Cogswell, a prominent local dentist revered as a philanthropic teetotaler. Burgess designed furniture for a San Francisco firm at minimal pay, lived on Russian Hill, and puzzled his neighbors by appearing at odd hours with his 5′ 4″ frame draped in vivid capes....

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Carruth, Hayden (31 October 1862–03 January 1932), writer, was born Fred Hayden Carruth near Lake City, Minnesota, the son of Oliver Powers Carruth and Mary Veeder, farmers. After receiving elementary and secondary education locally, young Fred, as he was then called, taught for several years in area schools. Although he had little interest in pursuing a college degree, he had shown skill as a writer from an early age, and he attended the University of Minnesota for one year, in 1881–1882, in preparation for a career in journalism....

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Cerf, Bennett Alfred (25 May 1898–27 August 1971), publisher and author, was born in New York City, the son of Gustave Cerf, a lithographer, and Frederika Wise, an heiress. Although Frederika had money that accrued from a parental trust fund, Gustave insisted that the family live modestly on his lithographer’s salary. When Cerf was in his teens, his mother died, shortly after giving birth to his sister, who also died. Consequently, sixteen-year-old Cerf became the sole beneficiary of his mother’s sizable trust fund of $125,000....

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Clark, Charles Heber (11 July 1841–10 August 1915), journalist and humorist, known by the pseudonym “Max Adeler,” was born in Berlin, Maryland, the son of Annabella McCullough and William James Clark. Two years after Clark’s birth, his father, an itinerant Episcopal clergyman, moved his family to Churchtown, Pennsylvania, where his abolitionist sympathies were more acceptable to his congregation. In 1856 financial problems forced the family to live apart, and at age fifteen Clark found himself in Philadelphia, where he took a series of low-paying jobs. He served the Union cause as a member of the Blue Reserves for about one month in 1862 and slightly longer in the summer of 1863....

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Cobb, Irvin Shrewsbury (23 June 1876–10 March 1944), newspaperman, author, and humorist, was born in Paducah, Kentucky, the son of Joshua Clark Cobb, a Confederate army soldier and later a tobacco trader, steamboat businessman, and manager of a river-supply store, and Manie Saunders. Cobb attended Paducah schools until 1892 and then became a reporter for the ...

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Cozzens, Frederick Swartwout (11 March 1818–23 December 1869), author and wine merchant, was born in New York City, the son of Frederick Cozzens, a chemist, naturalist, geologist, and mineralogist. His mother’s name is unknown. Cozzens’s maternal grandmother was from Carlisle on the Scottish border; as a child he enjoyed a “passionate love of poetry,” a result of hearing his grandmother’s retelling of the old Border ballads and legends in verse....