Peter Newell Biography

Peter Sheaf Hersey Newell was born in McDonough County, Illinois, U.S.A. – on 5th March 1862.

Newell grew up on the family farm, but showed little interest in the day-to-day necessities of agriculture. He was reportedly ‘an indifferent milker; a somewhat tentative tosser of hay; and it is said that his ploughing lacked depth.’  What he was passionate about – was art.


Newell was educated at local public schools and reportedly kept getting in trouble with teachers for his dextrous caricatures. By the 1880s, Newell had moved away from his early caricatures, and became one of the biggest names in the world of periodicals. He was publishing illustrations in publications such as Harper’s Weekly, Harper’s Bazaar, Scribner’s Magazine, Judge, and The Saturday Evening Post.

His drawings were so widely sought after that Newell soon gained financial independence and by 1883 was able to move to New York City. Here, he was involved in the Art Students League – where he honed his portraiture skills. Newell’s work had no one ‘major’ influence, but he admired Japanese art, and studied the French impressionists with great care.


Newell built his reputation largely on his humorous drawings and poems, which frequently appeared in nation-wide publications.

As well as this successful career with popular magazines and newspapers, Newell also wrote his own books – one of the best-known being Peter Newell’s Pictures and Rhymes (published in 1899).

He later wrote and illustrated several bizarre yet popular children’s books, such as Topsys and Turvys (1893), Mother Goose’s Menagerie (1901), The Hole Book (1908), and The Slant Book (1910).

Topsys and Turveys was a collection of poems and images which could be viewed upside-down or right-side up. The Hole Book had a literal hole at the centre of each page to indicate the path of a book – and The Slant Book  took the shape of a rhomboid and told the story of a baby carriage careering down a hill.

Newell often illustrated the works of other authors, such as Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, and Lewis Carroll. He also created a comic strip serial, The Naps of Polly Sleepyhead, which debuted in the New York Herald in 1905.  In October 1901, Newell illustrated a well-received edition of Alice In Wonderland.

In his private life, Newell loved playing tennis and chess. He was a superintendent at a Sunday School, and was also deeply concerned over issues in ‘Public Health’ – becoming a member of the Health Board in New Jersey. His life was full of positivity, art and company – with this happiness evident to all who read his rhymes and pictures.

Newell died in Little Neck, New York, on 15th January 1924. He was sixty-one years old.