Almost everyone knows the dollar sign; most people are familiar with Santa Claus; many Americans know the elephant, the political symbol of the Republican party, or Uncle Sam. But not many people know that these symbols were originally drawn by the German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast.

Nast was born in Landau in 1840. When he was six years old, his mother emigrated with him and his sister to the USA to escape the poverty in their home region. His father followed them to New York four years later. Thomas had great difficulty settling in and finding his feet at school. But his great talent as an artist was soon recognized. He took lessons – and at the age of 15 applied for a job with the New York weekly magazine ‘Frank Leslies’s Illustrated Newspaper’. His courage was rewarded and he got the job. It was the beginning of a breath-taking career; at its climax, Nast was earning only slightly less than the President of the United States.

He later worked for ‘Harper’s Weekly’, where he developed his most famous character: Santa Claus. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln had personally asked the publisher of this highly popular magazine to design a “special Christmas picture” for the front page. Nast discussed ideas with his sister, who was a teacher in New York. Together they remembered their childhood in Germany. The result was Santa Claus, who still brings Christmas joy to people in the United States and many other countries today.

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