Funnies like Puck,Judge or St. Nicholas were highly popular in the 19th century and New York's newspaper publishers soon took the opportunity to raise their print runs by adding funny supplements to their papers. The famous Sunday Comic Supplement was born on November 18, 1894 when Pulitzer's New York World published their first strip by Walt McDougall on the front page. "The Origin of a New Species" by Richard F. Outcault (14.1.1863 – 1928) was printed on the back of the same issue. This set the magazine's innovative pace and further comic pages followed. Richard F. Outcault had created a cartoon – Hogan's Alley –for Truth in May 1885 where among others a little kid first appeared that, although it didn't know it, had a bright future in front of him.
Pulitzer hired Outcault and on his new job he soon outshone the two New York World stars McDougall and Fenderson. His "The Yellow Kid" was published from 1895 to 1898 and turned its creator into a wanted man in no time. For quite a while "The Yellow Kid" even had the reputation of having been the first printed comic of the US. This of course is an overstatement, but still the series confronted readers with a rather new phenomenon: a corporate brand. The series' success multiplied print runs and like Palmer Cox (The Brownies), Outcault was highly successful in making his creation profitable. The character showed up on a number of brands – chewing gum, or tobacco – and in 1897 Dillingham & Co. released – "The Yellow Kid in McFadden's Flat" – a 196 pages reprint and collection of previous Sunday strips. Like many other famous comic icons the Kid originally started out as a sidekick - and in black and white, too. His shaved head, his ever so yellow shirt and his barefoot, shabby appearance represented a familiar picture of New York's 19th century ghettos and mirrored society quite well.
A huge part of its popularity is certainly due to Oucault's underlying humour and his fascinating and detailed imagery and satirical spirit, but some of it may also be the result of his clever marketing abilities and the huge publicity due to a Pulitzer / Hearst law suit about copyright issues. Whether this is completely true, isn't quite settled until today. Still – there are actually two Yellow Kids of 19th century New York: George B. Luks kept on drawing the story for Pulitzer after Outcault had taken on Hearst's generous offer and switched publishers. The two editor's of course maintained the battle for their audiences and thus may have pushed publicity even further. Quite a few other artists took on the issue, – like Leon Barritt, who depicted the disagreement in his satirical cartoon "The Big Type War of the Yellow Kids". In 1902 Buster Brown became an even greater success for Outcault's licensing business – but this is another story. Cartoons.osu.edu offers a great Yellow Kid collection you should definitely check out!