Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Edward Penfield of Pelham Manor: Famous Illustrator and . . . Mosquito Exterminator???

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Edward Penfield is one of the most notable artists ever to have lived in Pelham Manor. Known as an illustrator and a graphic design artist, Penfield served as President of the American Society of Illustrators and has been "credited with originating the poster in this country". See Edward Penfield Dies -- Former President of American Society of Illustrators, N.Y. Times, Feb. 10, 1925, p. 23. His work was featured on the cover of many nationally-distributed publications and stands today as a testament to his astonishing talent.

June 1899 Cover of Harper's by Edward Penfield

In addition to his art, Penfield was dedicated to the Village of Pelham Manor. He engaged in many important instances of community service. One of the most unusual community tasks to which he was dedicated was that of the extermination of mosquitos in the Village. Today's Blog posting will provide information about the life and work of Edward Penfield after which Penfield Place in Pelham Manor is named and will discuss his passion for the extermination of mosquitos in our community.


Edward Penfield was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 2, 1866. He lived in Pelham Manor for much of his adult life and died on February 8, 1925 at Dr. Slocum's sanitarium in Beacon, New York as a result of a fall that injured his spine more than a year earlier. He married Jennie Judd Walker, daughter of Maj. Charles A. Walker of Pelham Manor, on April 27, 1897. The couple had two sons, although one died in childhood.

According to a brief biography of the artist in the Dictionary of American Biography Base Set by the American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936 (Reproduced in History Resource Center, Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/HistRC/):

"His father, Josiah, and his grandfather, Henry L. Penfield, came from Rye, N. Y., their forebears from Fairfield, Conn.; his mother, Ellen Locke (Moore) Penfield, was born in England. Edward Penfield received his elementary education in Brooklyn, but soon left school to become a pupil at the Art Students' League in New York. After several years of study he became, at the age of twenty-four, the art editor of Harper's Magazine, and shortly, art editor of Harper's Weekly and Harper's Bazar [(which later became Harper's Bazaar)] also. He served these magazines for more than a decade with great distinction and intelligence, both as editor and as artist, in the former capacity seeking out and encouraging the best talent in the country and directing it into new and interesting channels. He discovered and befriended many a young and struggling artist and did much to raise the standards of magazine illustration. In 1901 he resigned his editorships, however, to devote his entire time to art. He executed a series of mural decorations of outdoor sports in Randolph Hall, Cambridge, Mass., now the property of Harvard University, and in 1903 painted ten panels depicting a fox hunt for the Rochester Country Club. Commercial work, however, absorbed more and more of his interest and time. He made a large number of poster designs, by which he is best remembered, and may be cited as the inaugurator of the brief but golden age of poster art in America."

Cover by Edward Penfield for 1897 Poster Calendar

During his long career, Penfield created artwork for magazine covers, book illustrations, posters, advertisements, post cards, calendars and much more.

Edward Penfield, Mosquito Exterminator

Among his many types of public service for the benefit of his beloved Village of Pelham Manor, Edward Penfield served as Village Street Commissioner for many years. As such, he gained fame in Westchester County "for his successful efforts at mosquito extermination." Indeed, according to an article published in The New York Times:

"For several years he annually drained the marshes about the village, filled in small ponds and oiled swampy places until there is no natural spot for a mosquito to raise a family.

"This Summer [1923], he has trained his fellow villagers so that if a mosquito bites them they call him up at once and he investigates. There is not a tin can left where it can hold water and not a puddle in the village where a mosquito larvae can live. The other day a woman called up Mr. Penfield and told him she had seen a mosquito. Mr. Penfield discovered a roof gutter on the house which was stopped up and held a nice puddle of water in which were millions of larvae. The gutter was cleaned, and not a mosquito has been seen in the Manor since."

Source: Edward Penfield Rids Town of Mosquitos -- Illustrator Destroys Swamps and Other Breeding Places in Pelham Manor, N.Y. Times, Jul. 21, 1923, p. 22.

Penfield's service in this regard gained such attention that in August, 1923, the Village of Larchmont on the Sound "issued an invitation to any resident of that place that if he will emulate the example of Edward Penfield, the mosquito exterminator of Pelham Manor, he will have an office created for him." See Larchmont Offers a Job To a Mosquito Exterminator, N.Y. Times, Aug. 15, 1923, p. 19.


The world remembers Edward Penfield as a notable artist. Pelham Manor remembers him as a notable artist and as a man who gave freely of himself -- from the tireless creation of lovely signs that dotted the Village to his important efforts to protect Village residents from sickness and death due to the lowly mosquito.

March 1896 Cover of Harper's by Edward Penfield

1912 Advertising Post Card by Edward Penfield

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