A prolific cartoonist and children’s illustrator, Johnny Gruelle is best known for creating two of the most iconic and popular characters of American childhood – Raggedy Ann and Andy. John Gruelle was born in Arcola, Illinois, on 24 December 1880. At the age of two, he moved with his family to Indianapolis, Indiana. This was in order for his father Richard Gruelle, a talented impressionist painter, to associate and exhibit with the Hoosier Group, a collective of Indiana painters.
Encouraged to draw from a young age by his father, Gruelle discovered a flair and passion for cartooning, and in 1901, at the age of 20, joined the Indianapolis-based tabloid, the People. After a short spell at the Indianapolis Sun, he joined the rival Indianapolis Star as assistant illustrator in June 1903. In 1905, he accepted a freelancing job with the World Color Printing Company of St Louis to produce four-colour Sunday comics.
He continued this association after relocating to Cleveland in 1906 to work for the Cleveland Press and the Newspaper Enterprise Association. Between 1906 and 1911, his cartoons appeared in numerous newspapers across the country, including the Pittsburgh Press, the Spokane Press and the Tacoma Times. He enjoyed greater exposure in 1911, when he beat over 1,500 other entrants in a cartooning competition sponsored by the New York Herald. He would go on to produce the cartoon he created, Mr Twee Deedle, for the New York Herald until 1914. Whilst working for the Herald, he began to receive commissions to produce illustrations for magazines such as the Illustrated Sunday Magazine and Judge. Later in his career, he would also produce illustrations for College Humor, Cosmopolitan and Life.
Johnny Gruelle’s most famous creation, ‘Raggedy Ann’, was inspired by a rag doll discovered in an attic by his daughter, Marcella, upon which he had drawn a face. After naming the doll ‘Raggedy Ann’, he was delighted by how much his daughter loved and played with her and, on 7 September 1915, registered a patent for the doll. He created adventures for Raggedy Ann to entertain Marcella, who had contracted diphtheria. The tragedy of her death in 1916, aged just 13, resolved Johnny Gruelle to create further stories and adventures of the doll in her memory. In 1918, the publishing company PF Volland published these as Raggedy Ann Stories. The same year, a Raggedy Ann doll was produced to accompany the book, to great commercial success. Between 1918 and 1926 alone, over 75,000 handmade dolls were produced. In 1920, a sequel, Raggedy Andy Stories, was published, introducing Raggedy Ann’s brother, Raggedy Andy. From 1922, the serialised ‘Adventures of Raggedy Ann and Andy’ appeared in newspapers across the country. In addition to his own creations, Johnny Gruelle also illustrated a volume of Grimm’s Fairy Tales in 1914, as well as other children’s books such as Nobody’s Boy (1916) and J P McEvoy’s The Bam Bam Clock (1920).
Having suffered for much of his life with a heart condition, Johnny Gruelle died of a heart attack in Miami Beach, Florida, on 8 January 1938.