Joseph Christian Leyendecker (1874-1951) was a noted illustrator and graphic designer who gained great popularity in the United States between the wars. Leyendecker was born in Montabaur, Germany in 1874; his family immigrated to Chicago in 1882. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and attended the Academie Julian in Paris. In 1899, Leyendecker received his first commission for the Saturday Evening Post, an affiliation that would continue until 1943. Leyendecker produced 324 covers for the magazine and introduced iconic images, including his chubby version of Santa Claus, the Mother’s Day flowers, and, of course, the New Year’s Baby. Leyendecker’s final cover for the Saturday Evening Post showed a New Year’s Baby for the January 2, 1943 edition. Leyendecker also created several posters in support of the nation’s war efforts during World War I and is well known for his Art Deco style advertising posters for Arrow Shirts and Collars from the 1920s. Leyendecker died on July 25, 1951 in New Rochelle.
Making use of his traditional baby illustrations for the annual editions of the Saturday Evening Post, Leyendecker borrowed his baby for a poster series commissioned by Amoco Gas during World War II. Each poster rang in the New Year with the traditional New Year Baby. The first in the series, In the Nation’s Service, was published shortly after the United States entered World War II and shows a baby with army cap, saluting in support of the war effort.
The following year, 1943, Speed the Victory was published, showing a baby flying an airplane and equipped with weapon, hoping for quick victory and a speedy end to the war. Leyendecker’s baby had come a long way from his early, innocent years in the early 1900s.
By early 1944, a parachuting baby is hoping for a Happy Landing: a peace dove holding an olive branch in its mouth symbolizes yet more hope for an end of the war. A color variant of the same poster was used in 1945.
The short Amoco series culminated with the ringing in of 1946, A Real Happy New Year: the war had ended in August of the previous year. Amoco re-used a variant the 1946 baby poster in 1952 following Leyendecker’s death.
All six Amoco baby posters are part of PosterConnection’s bi-annual poster auction on April 25, 2015 (lots 98 and 247-251). For more information, please visit posterconnection.com or view the catalog online via Invaluable.com.