Frankenstein entered the public consciousness almost as soon as the novel was published. Mary Shelley herself was thrilled by a Frankenstein mention made in Parliament. Soon, in comment and caricature, Frankenstein became a reference, the name applied indifferently to the creator and his monster. A Frankenstein could be someone jeopardized or destroyed by his policies, or the monster itself, the terrible result of one’s actions. Here, from 1896, Frankenstein is “The Free Silver Monster” unleashed.
“Free Silver” was the hot issue of that year’s Presidential election. Bi-metallists advocated the use of silver as a monetary standard along with gold, a willfully inflationary measure that would theoretically benefit cash-strapped farmers and laborers. The Silverites were opposed by the Goldbugs, bankrolled by bankers and industry barons who would see their champion, Republican William McKinley, elected. By 1900, the Pro-Silver movement had lost traction and fell out of favor.
The unsigned editorial cartoon of The Free Silver Frankenstein appeared front page, center, in the Marietta Daily Leader of Ohio, on Thursday, October 29, 1896. The wild-eyed giant tramples a farmer and threatens a mother and child. The landscape is littered with demolished factories and vultures appear over destroyed cities.
The lengthy caption loosely interprets the Frankenstein story, introducing the concept to anyone who might not be familiar with the inspirational novel. In prose even more terrifying than the illustration, The Silver Frankenstein, created by “well-meaning” bimetallists, is said to have run out of control, producing “much poverty and misery”. It must be destroyed on November 8, election day, lest it “turn upon the silverites themselves and crush and kill them.”
By 1896, when The Free Silver Frankenstein was sent on its rampage, Frankenstein’s Monster had already been referenced a number of times to editorial effect. The Monster is still used today, and often, as a cartoonist’s shorthand for things gone out of control.