Telling Tommy About – W. Paul Pim
Sometimes stories for the History Center blog come from footnotes from research while doing other stories. Our feature story about the 1916 Typhoid Epidemic in the May, 2016 issue of the History Center’s Newsletter fits that bill. The City Commissioner who responded to the health crisis that year was John Randoph Hornady (1872-1948) who also lead efforts to fund schools and authored a book in 1921 about Birmingham history to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Birmingham. “The Story of Birmingham.” To illustrate his book, Hornady hired William Paul Pim, a cartoonist with the Birmingham News.
Pim’s story turned out to be as fascinating as the original newsletter article. Born December 1, 1885 in Freeport, Pennsylvania, Pim was the son of Ira Lester Pim and the former Mary Ella Dougherty. He graduated from the Cabot Institute in 1903, and studied photo engraving at Bissell College in Effingham, Illinois until 1906. Pim began his career in Cleveland, Ohio. He came to Birmingham in 1915 and worked as a staff artist for The Birmingham News. While here he met Lenna Hales, who worked in the advertising department. They were married at the Newspaper Club, located on the 24th floor of the Jefferson County Bank Building (City Federal Building) on July 14, 1917.
Pim soon began publishing a popular cartoon known as “Baby Mine,” which eventually was syndicated in over 60 newspapers in the Southeast. The single pane cartoon featured a young child who quoted humorous statements from adults, usually “maw” or “pop.” One occasion the Birmingham News held a contest offering a prize of one dollar for letters on “What your baby says,” and received 800 replies in the span of one week. Pim also began teaching commercial art at Birmingham Southern College. His class was held on Saturdays and featured a one hour lecture followed by a two hour work session in the art laboratory in which students would create cartoons and illustrations.
In the late 1930s, Pim, now known as Paul Pim, began writing and illustrating a series of children’s books called the “Telling Tommy” series. They were all published by the Cupples and Leon Company of New York who published juvenile fiction and children’s books. The company is mainly remembered today as the major publisher of books collecting comic strips during the early decades of the 20th century such as Mutt and Jeff, Little Orphan Annie and The Katzenjammer Kids. Each children’s book published by Cupples and Leon would include an inside back jacket letter to parents assuring them that their books are “fit for children in every way, that the reading material is clean, interesting, inspiring and educational.” Running about 100 pages each, Pim eventually published seven “Telling Tommy” books
Telling Tommy About Mother Nature; Curious Children (1939), Telling Tommy About Famous People in Their Youth (1940), Telling Tommy About Days We Celebrate (1941), Telling Tommy About Famous Inventors (1942), Telling Tommy About Our Good Neighbors (1943), Telling Tommy About Things We Use (1946), and Telling Tommy About Pilgrims Progress (1957, published seven years after Pim’s death in 1950).
In each book, Pim would write a one page introduction to the volume. This would be followed by short easy to read essays about famous people, events, inventions or countries. On the facing page he would produce five or six illustrations, in the style of Ripley’s Believe it or Not, which would usually include a portrait, and several action illustrations. In the “Good Neighbors” book, these illustrations would include a map of the country and pictures of local birds or plants.
Pim died in Birmingham on July 26, 1950 and is buried in the Forest Hills Cemetery. Recently the Birmingham History Center acquired six of the “Telling Tommy” books from a private collector. We are looking for his last book “Telling Tommy About Pilgrim’s Progress” to complete the set.