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William Steinke

William Steinke

William Steinke 150 150 ctx

William “Jolly Bill” Steinke Papers, 1907-1958
2.2 cubic feet (2 document boxes, 1 flat box, 2 oversized folders)
Location: 0459-0460; Flat file 2, Drawer 6
Collection #: 073
Accession #: 2001.016


Papers and photographs of cartoonist and radio and television performer William “Jolly Bill” Steinke. This small collection documents his long public career, primarily through the large number of clippings he saved. Also included are examples of original artwork, posters and programs from personal appearances, scrapbook pages, radio scripts, and some correspondence. Material documenting his personal life is sparse and fragmentary, but does include an address book from the 1940s and some memorabilia. The 29 photographs primarily document his professional career with publicity photographs from his radio and television career and personal appearances. Several photographs of his activities with the New York Circus Saints and Sinners Club are also included.


William Steinke was born on November 25, 1887 in Slatington, Pennsylvania, near Allentown. In his early working life, Steinke was a traveling sales representative for the National Biscuit Co. in Maine. On one of these trips he met and eventually married the former Alice M. Staples. Later, Steinke worked for Pennsylvania newspapers, including the Allentown Democrat and Scranton Republican, as a cartoonist and reporter. While at these newspapers he gained a reputation as a practical joker and was apparently much beloved by his newspaper colleagues. He was also a comedic performer and popular public figure.

Steinke and his wife moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut where he worked first for the Standard-American and later for the Bridgeport Post. After four years in Bridgeport he moved to Newark, New Jersey where he worked drawing cartoons for the Newark Ledger. While in Newark in the early 1920s, he got his break in radio. Steinke, who was large even as a young man, volunteered to play Santa Claus on a WOR radio broadcast. Steinke’s stint as Santa was a hit and he was invited to do a series of story-telling and comedic programs on WOR.

In the 1920s, Steinke was hired by a Washington, D.C. press syndicate to cartoon various politicians and government officials. In the course of this assignment, he met President Calvin Coolidge and made a sketch of him that made the famously dour Coolidge laugh. From then on Steinke was known as the man who could make President Coolidge laugh.

Steinke made the jump to New York first at station WJZ and then over the NBC Radio Network in 1927, where he remained for 34 years. Among Steinke’s popular radio programs were the Jolly Bill and Jane and Rise and Shine radio programs that aired mornings on NBC Radio. The name of his radio persona, Jolly Bill, became the name by which he was best known by friends and fans alike. In 1933, his voice was the first to be broadcasted over NBC Radio from the new RCA Building in New York. Steinke also continued cartooning, creating daily cartoons for Nick Kenny’s column in the New York Mirror for many years. Examples of these cartoons are in the collection. The growing Steinke family, which would eventually include four children, William, Jr., Caroline, Barbara, and Bettina, also moved to New York, living in New Rochelle for many years. Steinke kept up a busy schedule of personal appearances with his comedic show, Never a Dull Moment, which featured Steinke caricatures of audience members drawn on his portable easel.

Jolly Bill Steinke was a charter member of the Circus Saints and Sinners Club in New York. This group, which staged dinners and other events, raised money to help support injured and indigent circus performers. Steinke served as the master of ceremonies for many of these events during the 1930s. Steinke was also well known for the many drawings he left on the walls, floor, and ceiling of the Palm Restaurant in New York City, which can still be seen. During World War II, Steinke toured veteran’s hospitals as an entertainer.

By the late 1940s it was clear that the entertainment wave of the future was television. Jolly Bill Steinke successfully made the transition, working in children’s television in New York, San Francisco, and Maine. At press club dinners and other events, Steinke’s impromptu caricatures of the people, both famous and common, continued to be a hit. The collection includes photographs of Steinke sketching at some of these events. Late in his life, he did a series of “Bill Steinke Remembers” cartoons for the Allentown Morning Call newspaper. Many examples of these cartoons are included in the collection, including one original.

Steinke’s wife of many years died in 1956. Age, weight, and other factors took a toll, and by 1957 Steinke was in ill health. He entered a convalescent home in Old Orchard Beach, Maine to be near two of his children, Bill, Jr. and Caroline. Jolly Bill Steinke died on January 29, 1958.

The William “Jolly Bill” Steinke Papers have been arranged in four series: Career, Correspondence, Personal, and Photographs. The collection is quite small and fragmentary, especially considering Steinke’s lengthy public career as a cartoonist, caricaturist, live comedic performer, and radio and television personality. The collection was completely disordered and the arrangement was created during processing. There is some indication in the Bettina Steinke and Don Blair Papers family correspondence that it was a point of contention between Steinke’s children who would receive his papers and memorabilia after his death; some external evidence indicates that the papers may have been divided amongst the siblings. This collection consists of material given to his daughter Bettina Steinke and came to the Dickinson Research Center with her papers and those of her husband, Don Blair.

Series 1: Career (1910-1958)
This is the largest series in the collection and consists of material from all phases of Jolly Bill’s career, from newspaper cartoonist and caricaturist, live comedic performer, and radio and television personality. Steinke’s artwork is shown through a small number of original pencil and pen & ink sketches, cartoons, and caricatures. Printed versions of some artwork are also included. The collection features a number of Jolly Bill promotional items such as advertising posters, press releases, brochures, and programs. Three scripts for the popular Jolly Bill and Jane children’s radio program and a proposal for a Jolly Bill television program are also included.

The bulk of the Career series, and the collection as a whole, consists of clippings that extensively document Jolly Bill Steinke’s career. The clippings were originally loose and unorganized. Many clippings were on fragile, highly acidic newsprint, these clippings were photocopied onto non-acidic paper. Clippings were then arranged in chronological order in folders covering a decade each. The clippings themselves cover the dizzying variety of Steinke’s activities. Included are many of Steinke’s newspaper cartoons and caricatures (including a large number of the “Bill Steinke Remembers” cartoons he did for the Allentown, Pennsylvania Morning Call in the late-1950s), articles about public appearances and performances, publicity and schedules for the Jolly Bill and Jane children’s radio program, mentions in entertainment columns and reviews, stories and listings for his Captain Surprise children’s program on a Portland, Maine television station, biographical articles, and his obituary.

Two partially filled scrapbooks in poor condition and some loose scrapbook pages were also included in the collection. Because the scrapbooks were in poor condition and highly acidic, the decision was made to disassemble the books and place the filled scrapbook pages in oversized folders with acid-free buffering between the pages. Some loose pages, apparently from other scrapbooks, were placed in separate folders. Primarily, the scrapbook pages contain clippings about Jolly Bill’s life and career prior to 1930.

Series 2: Correspondence (1914-1956)
This series is the smallest in the collection and includes both personal and business correspondence. Included are thank you letters for on-air and in-person promotion of various events and charities, fan letters, congratulatory telegrams, and letters from friends such as cartoonist Eugene Zimmerman and newspaper colleagues. There is one postcard from Steinke’s wife Alice and several Steinke-cartooned Christmas cards featuring his family, but nothing else family related. Additional Jolly Bill Steinke correspondence can be found in the Bettina Steinke and Don Blair Papers.

Series 3: Personal (1907-1955)
This series contains a modest amount of personal material and some memorabilia. Included is an address book, probably from the late 1940s; an award for charitable work; an undated notice from the Circus Saints and Sinner Club, to which Jolly Bill belonged; some saved clippings unrelated to Jolly Billy and his career; and a 1929 invoice. Memorabilia saved by Steinke, most of it unrelated to him, is also found in this series. Among this material is sheet music, the work of other cartoonists, a 1925 church bulletin with a Steinke cartoon on the cover, a cooking contest program, menus, and a promotional card for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus clown Felix Adler, who was an acquaintance of both Steinke and his daughter Bettina.

Series 4: Photographs (circa 1910-1951)
This series includes 29 photographs, both career and personal. The career photographs include publicity photographs of Steinke personally and for Jolly Bill and Jane and other programs, Steinke at various personal appearance and charity events, and Steinke working at the easel. The personal photographs include several group portraits of men, which may include Steinke, although he is not identified. Others include a 1918 photo of workers at the Lake Torpedo Boat Co., Bridgeport, Connecticut standing in front of a partially completed submarine and a photo of a large gathering in a Scranton, Pennsylvania Street taken in the 1910s or 1920s. It is unclear what relationship, if any, Steinke has to these photographs, but the images are quite striking. Perhaps the most interesting of the personal photographs is a group of four 11 x 14 prints documenting Steinke’s activities with the Circus Saints and Sinners Club. In three photographs Steinke is pictured in his guise as “barker” or master of ceremonies at Circus Saints and Sinners events in the 1930s.

Personal Names:
Kenny, Nick, 1895-1975.
Steinke, Alice M.
Steinke, Bettina, 1913-
Steinke, William.

Corporate Names:
Circus Saints and Sinners Club.
NBC Radio Network.
WJZ (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
WOR (Radio station : Newark, N.J.)

Subject Headings:
Captain Surprise (Television program)
Cartoonists—New York.
Comedians—New York.
Democrat (Allentown, Pa.)
Bridgeport Post (Bridgeport, Conn.)
Ink drawings.
Jolly Bill and Jane (Radio program)
Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)
New York Mirror (New York, N.Y.)
Newark Star (Newark, N.J.)
Performing arts posters.
Radio broadcasting.
Radio programs.
Radio programs for children.
Republican (Scranton, Pa.)
Standard-American (Bridgeport, Conn.)
Television personalities—California.
Television personalities—Maine.
Television personalities—New York

The William “Jolly Bill” Steinke Papers was accessioned as part of the Bettina Steinke and Don Blair Papers. Dickinson Research Center Director Charles Rand and National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Curator of Art Ed Muno, working with the Steinke and Blair estate executor Ned Jacob, negotiated the transfer of the Steinke and Blair papers to the Dickinson Research Center from the estate’s primary beneficiary, the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts. Legal and physical transfer of the papers occurred in March 2001. The William “Jolly Bill” Steinke Papers was completely unprocessed. Between November 2004 and May 2005 Jonathan Nelson processed the collection along with the Bettina Steinke and Don Blair Papers. A separate finding aid was created in June 2005.

The collection is open for research. It is advisable for researchers to discuss their proposed research with staff prior to visiting the Center.

William “Jolly Bill” Steinke Papers, Box ##, Folder ##, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Series 1: Career – 1910-1958

Box/Folder # Folder Title/Description
001/001 Artwork, 1927-1939, undated
003/001 Artwork, undated
001/002 Publicity and Promotion, 1916, undated
001/003-007 Publicity and Promotion, Clippings, 1910-1958, undated
FF2/DR6 Publicity and Promotion, Posters, 1916, undated
001/008 Publicity and Promotion, Press releases, 1947-1953, undated
001/009 Publicity and Promotion, Programs, 1916-1924
003/002-005 Publicity and Promotion, Scrapbook pages, 1912-circa 1947
001/010 Radio Scripts, 1936-1947
001/011 Television Program Proposal, undated

Series 2: Correspondence – 1914-1956

Box/Folder # Folder Title/Description
001/012 Correspondence, 1914-1956, undated

Series 3: Personal – 1907-1955

Box/Folder # Folder Title/Description
002/001 Address Book, circa 1947
002/002 Award, 1952
002/003 Circus Saints and Sinners Club, undated
002/004 Clippings of Interest, 1915-1955, undated
002/005 Financial, 1929
002/006 Memorabilia, 1907-1944
003/006 Memorabilia, 1915-1937

Series 4: Photographs – ca. 1910-1951

Box/Folder # Folder Title/Description
002/007 Career, 1947-1951, undated [20]
002/008 Personal, 1918, undated [4]
003/007 Personal, Circus Saints and Sinners Club, 1931-1935 [4]
FF2/DR6 Personal, Men’s Bible class, First Presbyterian, Scranton, Penn., circa 1910 [1]
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