Creative, Talented & Passionate: Al Schweitzer’s Illustrated Life

Bethesda Health | October 21, 2015

If the measure of a man can be found in the sheer volume of his work and range of his interests, Al Schweitzer dwarfs most. A local celebrity and artist, Al has enjoyed an adventurous life with his friends and family.

From Marine to Illustrator

In the early 1940s, the young enlistee turned the shouting, drilling, and marching of MarineAlSwitzerp5 boot camp into a humorous illustrated booklet sold in the Post Exchange for 25 cents. It sold upwards of 10,000 copies in the first week.

Upon returning home, he captured the history of St. Louis in a folded poster and drew his way into another hot-selling piece. His artistry brought life to the city’s chronologic history. He founded Rivercity Publishing Co., which printed and sold more than 60,000 copies.

He used his artistic talent to add real dimension to stories and the news of the day. From advertising illustrations to nationally syndicated news editorial cartoons, Al’s sharp wit and smooth hand earned him an award from the Catholic Press Association. His images also garnered some criticism during the deeply divided racial debates of the 1960s, as they depicted racial acceptance.

Drawing the St. Louis Weatherbird

At the height of his career, Al worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, creating editorial cartoons and daily adaptions of the famous front-page Weatherbird. Al’s work ultimately crossed the thresholds of more than 300,000 St. Louis homes and businesses every day and 500,000 on Sundays.

According to an article in the March 24, 2013 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “the Weatherbird cartoon, the daily front-page icon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, still reigns as the longest continuously running comic strip in U.S. newspapers.” Only six cartoonists have drawn the bird since its creation in 1901, and according to Al, “every artist develops his own bird. I liked to draw happy birds, often with a cigar…I thought the cigar made my bird a little saucy.”

“Friends are Very Important”

The 94-year-old Bethesda Barclay House resident clearly loved his work. During a visit to the St. Louis Mercantile Library to review his 900-plus piece archive, he jokingly referred to the pieces as “his children.” While clearly a large part of his life was spent with pen in hand, Al credits family and friends with the real reason he enjoys life and has been blessed with longevity.

He late wife Hélène, to whom he was married for 66 years, seems to have been a good partner for a man with many interests. “We never thought about being old. We just stayed active,” he says. They traveled extensively, enjoyed the opera, and raised two boys. One passion they did not share was Al’s love of sailing.

“As a child, my father took us after church on Sundays to different places all over St. Louis. One day, it was Creve Ceur Lake, where the Boy Scouts were taking people out on sailboats. I was hooked!” What might have been a hobby for some turned into a side business and competitive sport for Al. He sold custom sailboats and raced on Lake Carlyle until his mid-70s.

After his wife died, he moved to live with his son and family in Georgia. “That was nice, but I really missed my friends and life in St. Louis. Friends are very, very important,” Al says.

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