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Is 1921 Cartoon The World’s First Meme According To The Internet ?

Is this cartoon from 1921 the first meme?

When this comic was shared on Twitter, it sparked speculation as to whether it was the first meme (a format-dependent joke consisting of an image with a caption or subtitle) ever created.

However, we discovered a version of the joke printed at least a year prior in 1919 or 1920, using the identical format.

Both use the ‘Expectations vs. Reality‘ joke as a starting point.

Yesterday’s Print, a user who uploads historical content to “show the similarities of past and present,” was the first to submit the cartoon to Tumblr.

It was afterward re-posted with different titles, such as “you/the person she tells you not to worry about,” a reference to yet another modern template meme.

Other memes, such as ‘If You Don’t Love Me / Can’t Handle Me,’ were used by some users to develop their own versions of the format.

What is the source of it?

The cartoon was discovered in a 1921 issue of the University of Iowa’s satirical journal The Judge.

The cartoon is then ascribed to a separate publication inside The Judge: the Wisconsin Octopus, which was published at the University of Wisconsin from 1919 and 1959.

We were able to examine a few early versions of the Wisconsin Octopus magazine by going via the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries and discovered that this isn’t the first time the ‘Expectations vs. Reality’ style had appeared in print.

The following comic (which is quite old by today’s standards) may be found in an edition released in 1919 or 1920:

Comic found in an edition released in 1919 or 1920.
image credits : WISCONSIN OCTOPUS

Is it true that this is “the first meme”?

A single image can’t be a meme, according to the definition. It must be duplicated and disseminated with minor changes to the original image.

As a result, the 1921 cartoon is not a meme in and of itself. When coupled with a comic from 1919 or 1920, however, it begins to satisfy the requirements, as the two comics are versions of the same style, which use two panels and captions to create an expectation and contrast it with reality.

While we can’t claim with confidence that this is the first meme by that definition, we can assume that it was really part of a pre-internet ‘Expectations vs. Reality’ meme since it was copied and disseminated with modifications.

The Wisconsin Octopus magazine’s writers were well ahead of their time.

Let us know your opinions in the comments.

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