Fontaine Talbot Fox III, creator of the famous Toonerville Trolley, was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1884. He started his career as a reporter for the Louisville Herald, but soon abandoned this course to pursue his true passion of drawing cartoons. During a visit to the small town of Pelham, New York, Fox received inspiration for what would become one of the nation’s most beloved comics. While in Pelham, he rode on the local trolley car, where the conductor’s unhurried manner and penchant for gossiping with his passengers gave Fox the idea for his own comic strip. By 1915, the resulting comic series, Toonerville Folks, had come to the attention of the Wheeler Syndicate and was soon published in newspapers across the nation.
The Filson’s collections contain a number of items documenting the life and career of this celebrated cartoonist, including photographs of Fox and his family, as well as some of his correspondence and several scrapbooks with clippings of his cartoons. Notable among Fox’s papers are a collection of twenty-one original pen and ink cartoons from his beloved Toonerville Folks. Set in the fictional town of Toonerville, the single-paneled cartoon featured a rickety trolley car and a glimpse into suburban life in the early twentieth century. Fox created a cast of characters that charmed a nation: the Terrible-Tempered Mr. Bang, the Powerful Katrinka, Mickey (Himself) McGuire (the town bully), Aunt Eppie Hogg (the fattest woman in three counties), and of course the Skipper, who piloted the beloved trolley car. Toonerville Folks ran in hundreds of newspapers nationwide for over forty years, until Fox’s retirement in 1955. His comics would become an inspiration for a future generation of cartoonists.