Ski Art: William Allen Rogers (1854-1931)

William Allen Rogers
Harper's Weekly, 1899
Harper's Weekly, 1899

W. A. Rogers was best known as an American cartoonist and contributed illustrations to a number of popular magazines. He was already publishing images locally in Ohio when he was 14 years old. He studied at Worcester Polytechnic in Massachusetts and at Ohio’s Wittenburg College but did not graduate from either. It is said that he taught himself to draw. In 1873, at only 19, he was hired as an illustrator for the New York Daily Graphic and went on to Harper’s, taking over from the extremely popular Thomas Nash in 1877.

Over the years, he had illustrations and cartoons in Life, Puck and The Century and ended his career in 1926 at the Washington Post. He also illustrated children’s books, and in 1922 he published his autobiography, A World Worthwhile. The New York Public Library holds many of his drawings, cartoons and illustrations.

This illustration from Harper’s Weekly (March 4, 1899) holds particular interest since it is one of the few that depicts pre-1900 skiing in Oregon. While in the gold mining camps of Oregon’s Blue Mountains, he writes, “I find the use of skee,” as many women, men and children fetch supplies like bacon and flour. Here he shows the utilitarian aspect of skiing on a shopping trip of mother and son—nothing exciting here, just a very accurate drawing showing Harper’s readership just what “skee-running” meant on these new-fangled foreign boards, which included a “clever device”—a “round wooden block, like a wheel, that slipped over the lower end of the balance pole” to prevent it from sinking down when thrust into the deep, soft snow. — E. John P. Allen