The History Behind Norman Rockwell and
the Saturday Evening Post Covers
With his art on cover of the Saturday Evening Post, Norman
Rockwell became an American icon. The popularity of his
illustrations on the cover helped make the Post the magazine
Norman Rockwell and the Saturday Evening Post both became
fixtures in American homes during the early years of the
The Saturday Evening Post was published weekly in the United
States from August 4, 1821 to February 8, 1969 and monthly
afterward. Curtis Publishing Co., its publisher for most of that
period, claimed the magazine was founded by Benjamin Franklin.
However, the Post's first issue was published more than 30 years
after Franklin's death in 1790.
The Post had fallen on hard times by the late Nineteenth
Century. The new editor of the Post at that time, George Horace
Lorimer, rebuilt the Saturday Evening Post into the premier
magazine of its time. Mr Lorimer, as Norman Rockwell called him,
took the Post "from a two bit family journal with a circulation
in the hundreds to an influential mass magazine with a
circulation in the millions." Quoted from My Adventures as an
Although hesitant about approaching the Saturday Evening Post,
Norman Rockwell was certain that the cover of the Post was his
window of opportunity. He had dreamed for years of having his
illustrations on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Norman
Rockwell put aside his fears in 1916 and took two paintings and
three sketches to Philadelphia and Mr. Lorimer's office.
Rockwell was so nervous and scared that he almost turned around
and headed back to New York when he reached the Post's office
To Rockwell's great relief and delight, Mr. Lorimer liked the
two paintings and approved the three sketches for future covers
for the Saturday Evening Post. Norman Rockwell was paid much
more than ever before for his work.
He was paid $75.00 each for his two paintings. $150.00 in 1916
dollars would be 2628.44 in 2005 dollars. Quite a sum for a
virtually unknown 18 year old artist!
Even more important than the immediate payment was the knowledge
that he was going to be published on the cover of The Post.
The first Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover was
published May 20, 1916. Entitled Boy with Baby Carriage, it
shows 2 boys in baseball uniforms scoffing at another boy
dressed in his Sunday suit pushing a baby carriage. One of
Norman Rockwell's favorite models, Billy Paine, posed for all
Boy with Baby Carriage was an instant success, and Norman
Rockwell was on his way to becoming a household name.
On June 3, 1916, the second Saturday Evening Post Norman
Rockwell cover was published. His second effort featured a kid's
circus with one kid in long underwear being the strongman.
Another kid in a top hat was the circus barker, extolling the
other kids in the painting to see the show. This was the second
of the two finished paintings Rockwell originally showed to Mr
Lorimer. This second painting is regarded by most as being every
bit as good as the first.
The Circus Barker and the Strongman cemented Rockwell's position
as the favorite artist at the Post. Next, however, Norman found
out that "doing Post covers wasn't all soup and fish." His next
idea, which had already been approved, took considerably more
At the first presentation, Mr. Lorimer said the old man looked
too rough and tramp like. Anxious to continue his success at the
Saturday Evening Post, Norman Rockwell dutifully redid the
painting. At the second presentation, the old man looked too
old. Paint it again. Next, the kid was too small. Paint it
again. The painting, Gramps at the Plate, was redone a total of
Mr Lorimer later told Norman that this was his test. Rockwell
says in his autobiography, My Adventures as an Illustrator, "I
wonder if he knew how near I came to flunking his test."
All in all, more than 300 Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post
covers were published. Rockwell gained the love and admiration
of the average American along the way. From 1916 until 1963, he
was a regular weekend visitor in American homes via the Saturday
The last Saturday Evening Post Norman Rockwell cover was in
remembrance after his death in 1978. The illustration featured
was a portion of his famous Triple Self-Portrait. This cover was
published in February 1979 as a tribute to the artist who had
done so much for the Post and for whom the Post had done so
much. On the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, Norman Rockwell
earned his reputation as an artist.
Author: Keith McDonald -