Making a Federal Case Over Illustration

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Don’t be confused by the title. The Federal government did not actually own the Federal Schools correspondence courses, but there was a connection.

The school was founded as the Federal School of Applied Cartooning in Minneapolis in 1914 as a branch of the Bureau of Engraving Inc. to train illustrators for both the growing printing industry and the Bureau itself. Artists who received this training through these home study courses entered the fields of newspapers, printing and advertising. Joseph Almars (1884–1948) was both the vice president of the Bureau of Engraving and the president of Art Instruction, Inc. It was responsible for the ubiquitous Draw Me! ads found on matchbooks and in the columns of magazines and comics. The school actually continued until 2016.

This thin quarterly magazine, The Federal Illustrator, edited by Almars covered many commercial arts, including type, layout and graphic design. Surprisingly, there were quite a few women employed as teachers and writers, which of course, indicated that women, while less well known on the national stage, had a wide birth in the commercial arts.

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About Steven HellerSteven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →