The Harvard University Library recently digitized this book of caricatures, Millionaires of America, published in 1902 by journalist and artist Carlo de Fornaro. In Fornaro’s renderings, the captains of American industry appear less than dignified. John Jacob Astor sports an foppish yellow mustache; the diminutive Andrew Carnegie sits boosted up on a stack of large books; railroad scion George J. Gould slumps, polo mallet in hand, on a horse that eyes him skeptically.
Fornaro, an Italian transplant who had lived in Switzerland and Germany before moving to the United States, spent the first decade of the 20th century involved with radical politics. In 1906 he moved to Mexico and joined the opposition to the country’s longtime president Porfirio Diaz, writing two books about the Mexican political situation for American readers. He condemned the relationship between Diaz and the American business community, accusing railroads and mining concerns of abetting Diaz in economic development projects that were detrimental to the lives of the Mexican working class.
When this book of caricatures was published, Harvard’s Todd Bachmann finds, the New York Times reviewed it favorably:
Perhaps it is well that some one should come out and “stand for” the collection of pictures burlesquing certain well-known citizens of this town and some of whom, it is reported, have already lost their temper over the manner in which they have been depicted…When caricatures are true to life, as in many cases in the present instance, there is no denying that the public derive a certain satisfaction from seeing the victim writhe. Therefore, perhaps the eminent citizens whose counterfeit presentments are to be found in the book, might better conceal their chagrin and take it all good-humoredly. Such was Pliny’s advice to the victims of caricature in ancient days.
Later, Fornaro was to spend a year in prison, after being accused of libel by a Mexican editor who disliked his portrayal in the journalist’s 1909 book Diaz, Czar of Mexico.