Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling (1876 – 1962) was an editorial cartoonist and environmental activist whose written work appeared in hundreds of newspapers and print publications in Iowa and across the nation during the first five decades of the twentieth century. His ability to graphically capture American values and beliefs led to a national audience for his work.
Darling was born in Norwood, Michigan on October 21, 1876, the son of a Civil War veteran and Congregational minister. The family was frequently on the move during Darling’s youth with stops in Michigan and Indiana, before settling in Sioux City in 1886. Over the next decade Ding came to love the landscape of western Iowa and the Missouri River Valley and also to develop a skill for sketching what he saw. It was during his college years in South Dakota and Wisconsin that he developed his distinctive style and began to sign his drawings “D’ing.”
Ding returned to Sioux City in 1900 intent on earning enough money to pay for medical school. He became a reporter with the Sioux City Journal and accompanied his stories with drawings and that led to his promotion to editorial cartoonist at the newspaper. By 1906, Darling’s work was widely known across the state and he was hired by Garner Cowles to draw for the Des Moines Register and Leader, a position he would hold on and off for the next forty three years.
Darling’s influence as a cartoonist quickly grew beyond the borders of Iowa and he was eager to find a larger audience for his work. Beginning in 1916, with the permission of the Cowles family, Darling distributed his cartoons to over 130 papers through the New York Herald Tribune Syndicate. This agreement further enhanced Darling’s reputation and he won the first of two Pulitzer Prizes in 1924.
Beginning in the 1930s Darling turned his attention to conservation and the environment in Iowa. He helped to fund the Cooperative Wildlife Research Center at what is now Iowa State University and in 1934 was appointed by the Roosevelt administration to participate in a study of migrating wildfowl. Darling was later appointed the Chief of the Biological Survey and used that office to implement the Duck Stamp program and fund national conservation efforts.
Ding returned to cartooning in 1936, but did not abandon his interest in the environment. He helped to found the National Wildlife Federation that same year and continued to be an ardent advocate for conservation and the protection of wildlife for the rest of his life.
Ding Darling is not an author in the conventional sense of that term. Although he drew thousands of cartoons on hundreds of topics, he “authored” only four books in his lifetime and these books were collections of his drawings. In truth, Darling was a man of few words and even fewer books, but his work should not be dismissed. Through his drawings, Ding Darling had the power to influence public policy. If for that reason alone, the Iowa Center for the Book acknowledges Ding Darling as an important Iowa author.