Joseph Stern created the first Little Man drawing in 1923.
Do you think the man under the umbrella on the right looks like a cartoon from the last century?
Well it is.
This simple drawing symbolized the credit union movement for nearly 40 years, from 1923 until the mid 1960s.
When Joe Stern first created the character, World War I had just ended. People were jubilant.
The economic situation matched the times. It wasn't like what we're experiencing today:
- Jobs were plentiful.
- People made and saved more money than they ever had before the war.
- The economy was growing strong.
- Technology was quickly advancing.
Stern wanted to show a happy, little credit union member (the "Little Man") under an umbrella. Above him hard times, sickness, and financial distress rain down. It worked, and here's the Little Man's story...
Credit unions form in AmericaLook at America's credit unions' newest symbol.
In the happy days of prosperity, stores started letting people pay for big things in small amounts. They called it "the installment plan."
Installment plans enabled many people to purchase items they couldn't afford to pay for all at once. People bought things such as radios, automobiles, vacuum cleaners, and electric refrigerators.
Stern's animated cartoon stars the Little Man.
Financing these purchases created a big opportunity for the credit unions, which were just being introduced in America.
Help from a friend
Roy F. Bergengren was one of the people helping to get the credit union movement started in America in the early 1920's. He asked Stern, who was also his friend, to create a symbol that shows how credit unions help people.
An Austrian immigrant, Stern had just started his job at the Boston Herald. He gave Bergengren an animated cartoon (right) starring the Little Man and his credit union.
Bergengren asked Stern to draw more cartoons for a magazine called The Bridge, first published in June 1924, to share information about credit unions with other credit union people.
Stern's Little Man keeps the bridge open.
In each issue, the Little Man appeared in a bridge tender's outfit holding a sign saying, "The Road is Open."
Stern created many drawings for The Bridge, which is called Credit Union Magazine today.
At one point, The Bridge even had a column named "Under the Umbrella."
Six years after Stern drew the first Little Man, hard times and financial distress really did begin to rain in the U.S.
On Oct. 29, 1929, the U.S. stock market took a record-breaking dive, and the country soon fell into an era known as the Great Depression.
The Great Depression was a time of widespread unemployment and poverty.
The Little Man goes to war, 1941.
The war effort
In time, the little man traded his umbrella for a gun to help credit unions sell war bonds.
World War II began in 1939, and the U.S. entered the war in 1941.
Stern drew two versions of the little man to show credit unions' support of the war effort.
In one drawing, the little man stands at attention with a gun in his hand and his umbrella stuck in the ground by his side.
In another drawing, the little man smiles as he rides a tank with his thumb in the air. The ad reads "This credit union has enlisted for Victory." The end of the war marked a new era for credit union development...