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Tom McKimson’s paycheck, 1944


If you love Looney Tunes even the little details are interesting. Warner Bros. uber-art collector Eric Calande recently added this item to his collection: A 1944 paystub belonging to animator Thomas McKimson (click above to see slightly larger image). Notes Eric:

Schlesinger was paying him a whopping $90 a week. This comes to about $4700 a year when an average salary in 1944 was $20 – $25,000 $2, 600. As these were the war years, the check shows a “Victory Tax” deduction. There’s also a field for a “war bonds” deduction.

Examine the rest of Eric’s collection at

  • Jonathan G.

    I think $20-25K in 1944 was living like a king. I can’t find verification, the Internets being overloaded with salary data though no historical context, but I think your data might be alittle off.

  • amid

    This person has their facts absolutely wrong. The average salary in 1944 was NOT $20-25k a year. It’s not too hard to dig up animator salaries from that period. In 1944, $90 was neither a great sum nor all that shabby. Very average for a guy like Tom McKimson. For comparison, Bill Melendez was making $125/week in 1952 as an animator at UPA. Also, if you use the inflation calculator here, you’ll see that $4700 a year back then is about $53k in today’s money.

  • According to a Red Cross coloring book available online, the average US salary in the 40’s was $1300. (There’s also census data available that says $2379 in ’45 but I’m going with the coloring book.)

  • I don’t know if collecting celebrity garbage should be put into the same category as animation art. The only thing that makes it any different from any other old paystub is it has a famous person’s name on it!

  • Not the greatest pay for 1944 but it sure beats what a web cartoonist makes in 2007 : (

  • In mid-1944 Tom McKimson-drawn stories began to appear in Dell’s Warner comic books, suggesting that from about eight months previous (the usual lead time between drawing and publication), he may not have been working full-time for the Schlesinger studio.
    Either that, or his comics work was moonlighting, suggesting that the salary we’ve been discussing may NOT have been enough.

  • Jeff

    There is no way the average salary was 20-25K back then. That’s almost the average TODAY. I remember back in the early 70’s, the average salary was about 13K.

    Not many people know the victory tax was the first time Americans had a tax taken directly out of their paychecks. Even though the income tax had been around for awhile by 1944, it was never collected from a persons paycheck. The victory tax was supposed to end a year after the war, but the government sure got spoiled with all of that money coming in…..once they get, they don’t give it back…

  • Jeff Kurtti

    Barron’s National Business and Financial Weekly, April 24, 1944

    By Malvern Hall Tillitt

    Annual “net earned income” of the lowest-paid man in America’s armed forces, if single, is more than that of the $3,600-a-year single man in civilian employment. And annual pay of $3,600 is more than the yearly earnings of many tellers in banks or bookkeepers in mercantile establishments or employees in investment houses or pharmacists or engineers in radio operation. It is twice the average pay received by employees of insurance concerns or public utilities or real estate companies. Indeed, Federal income-tax reports show that more than 90 percent of incomes earned by single persons throughout the United States fall below $3,600.

  • I agree the salary data of 20K seems very high for the time period. The data came from a couple salary sites that obviously have inaccurate data. For those of you who consider this piece nothing more than celebrity garbage, you are missing that fact that this is a historical document showing what a Schlesinger Employee was making at that time. It eliminates guess work. That’s quite important to a historian . With someone who has a collection of art as large as mine, these additional documents round out the story nicely.

  • had the following info for 1944….

    Average Annual Salary: $2,600
    Car: $1,220
    Gasoline: 21 cents/gal
    House: $8,600
    Bread: 9 cents/loaf
    Milk: 62 cents/gal
    Postage Stamp: 3 cents
    Stock Market: 152
    Minimum Wage: 30 cents per hour

  • I’m presuming that pay rate was after they had unionized. Anyone know what the pay for a job like that was before the unions got involved? (Yes I know it would have been less… but how much less?)

  • Eric: Yeah, I guess I can see its value as a historical document. Good point.

    Also, I apologize for my “celebrity garbage� comment.

  • (Robert:) I suspect you are right about this being a pay rate following unionization. From what I have read, Schlesinger was never known as a generous man when it came to money. On the other hand, he did recognize talent so it’ possible his more seasoned artists were paid a little more fairly just to keep them around. (?)

  • Wow, $53,000 (in modern money) doesn’t seem like a whole lot for a top animator. I mean, it’s enough to live on comfortably, but I’ll bet the main Simpsons animators make a lot more than that…

  • so i typed in “inflation calculator” or some such business in google and got a site where i can type in a sum of money the year and then the year to compare it to, to see how much the federal reserve destroyed our economy since then *cough*

    this is what it came out with:

    What cost $90 in 1944 would cost $1013.74 in 2006.

    Also, if you were to buy exactly the same products in 2006 and 1944,
    they would cost you $90 and $7.99 respectively.

    so i suppose for all intents and purposes he made about what the average NYC animator makes today?

  • it’d be really awesome if he could find checks for a variety of positions at the studio and compared them! like director, writer, lead, assistant, inbetweener etc.

  • Jonathan G.

    Sigh. I’m sure this inflation-adjustment-madness would have started whether I began it or not, but let’s be nice to Jerry. Think of what he does for us, “adults who watch cartoons” (what my in-laws call me).

  • Smo – It would be interesting to compare salaries but it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a series of these pay stubs. We’re lucky to have what art exists seeing as Warner Brothers destroyed most of it. It blows my mind when something like this check surfaces in mint condition. Amazing that someone held on to this for all these decades.

  • Eric – yeah i know it’s crazy! i know it’d be weird for some other stubs like this to pop up since this one itself is such a big deal…i just got really excited!!!

    it always seems like even when dealing with animation of the past people are a little foggy on the whole “how much do you make?” ordeal. budgets too! tricky business!

  • Simone Tse Tse

    Excellent information Eric, far from “garbage.” Now just round up salary info on other artists then we can calculate how much Schlesinger actually put back into the animation dept. (yea right) And how much were the female staff paid, there or at Disney compared to males during this time?

  • it warms my heart to see artists understanding the effect of the federal reserve.

  • (Simone) – Martha Sigal’s bok “Living Life Inside the Lines” probably has some good info on what female employee’s made at the Schlesinger/WB studio.

    Here’s an interesting tidbit I found online…

    In 1941, before the union, people’s wages were a free-for-all and ranged from $500 a week for a top animator like Art Babbitt, down to $12 for a painter. Babbitt used to augment his assistant’s salary out of his own pocket, because the man could not afford to feed his family. New trainees like Warner Bros legends Virgil Ross and Paul Smith were hired at $6.00 a week, up to $10.00 after one month. Painter Martha Sigal told me she was hired by Leon Schlesinger at $12.75.After one year she was called a journeyman and raised to $21.00 (inkers were paid $23.00); after that, no more raises were allowed. Some companies set policies about raises, but mostly you had to go haggle like a Bedouin camel trader. And if you asked for a change in these conditions, like a worker’s council or union, you were branded a “Lousy Red.”