A Brief History of "Pepper...and Salt"

Drawn from text written by Robert L. Bartley, former editor of The Wall Street Journal.

When the cat's away, the editors will play.

That's what happened at The Wall Street Journal in 1950. While Journal editor and resident curmudgeon William Henry Grimes was away in Europe, other editors, with the blessing of the CEO, took it upon themselves to start publishing a daily cartoon as part of an overall redesign of the editorial page.

Mr. Grimes returned from his Grand Tour in a fury, complaining about the "goddamn picture page." But the readers loved it, and the cartoon remains a favorite with Journal readers today. It appears under the heading "Pepper ... and Salt", a logo first used in the paper in 1915 as a header for timely quotes and quips drawn from other papers. The first daily "Pepper...and Salt" cartoon appeared on June 6, 1950.

The cartoon feature was the brainchild of a student named Charles Preston, who worked his way through Columbia University in the late 1940s writing gags for cartoonists and radio shows and supplying jokes to punch up Broadway plays. In 1950, he approached The Wall Street Journal with the idea of running a daily cartoon on business themes in the paper's editorial pages. More than a half century later, Mr. Preston is still the editor of "Pepper...and Salt".

"When editorial page editor Vermont Royster assigned me to edit the "Pepper...and Salt" column," Mr. Preston says, "he observed that there was more than enough earnest gravity on the editorial page. My mission was to provide a smattering of condiment for the weighty discourse in the adjacent columns."

From the beginning, "Pepper...and Salt" has poked fun at the world of business. Along the way, the cartoons have provided a timely chronicle of more than fifty years of American business and social history. Pony-tailed executives, online trading, and cell phones are all grist for the satirist's mill today—just as tailfins, protests, and long hair were in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

"Pepper ... and Salt" is unique among newspaper cartoons in that it isn't drawn by one cartoonist. Charles Preston receives about 1,000 submissions a week for three available slots, though a stable of thirty or so provides the lion's share of the cartoons.

But he has always welcomed submissions from amateurs. Over the years, he has published cartoons by, among others, a dermatologist from Texas, a dentist from Brooklyn and a judge from Kansas. Some of the country's most famous cartoonists —including Mort Walker, Chon Day, Lee Lorenz and Mike Twohy — have also appeared here.

"I've looked at more cartoons than anyone in the history of mankind," Charles Preston says. Generations of Journal readers and now researchers at Baker Library will be glad that he has.

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