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Popeye the Sailor: How It All Began

Cheryl is a proud baby boomer who enjoys giving readers information on old school classics.


It all began with E C Segar

Popeye the animated character is 93 years old as of this writing. He was created eight months before the stock market crash in September 1929. On January 17, of that year Popeye the Sailor made his debut and eventually became the most popular character in the comic strip by E. C. Segar titled Thimble Theatre. Fans of the pipe-smoking sailor may not know this but Popeye and Olive Oil were based on real people who lived near Segar’s home. The cartoonist was born Elzie Crisler Segar on December 8, 1894, and raised in Chester, Illinois. At the age of 18, he began taking a correspondence course in cartooning from W. L. Evans who lived in Cleveland. Segar was so dedicated to becoming a cartoonist that after getting off from work each day he literally burned the midnight oil by working on his cartoon course from 12 AM until 3 AM. He also began studying the work of cartoonists like George McManus, Rube Goldberg, and George Harmon and later credited these men as his biggest inspiration.

Transitions and new beginnings

Segar moved to Chicago and began working for The Chicago Herald where his first comic, Charlie Chaplin's Comic Caper was published in March 1916 and ran for more than a yea. In 1918 Segar went to work for The Chicago Evening Tribune. and the following year he was hired by the New York Journal where on December 19, 1919, his Thimble Theatre Strip debuted featuring the characters Castor Oyl and Olivia Oyl. Along with Ham Gravy, Olive and Castor were the main characters for close to a decade. There were other characters added to the comic strip along the way but the most profound addition took place on January 17, 1929. Castor Oyl needed a navigator to sail his ship to Dice Island and saw an old sailor on the docks named Popeye. Castor decided to offer him the job. and when asked if he was a sailor, Popeye replied "Ja think I'm a cowboy"? The sailor man was only supposed to be in the one strip but newspaper readers began writing in and asking for more of him.


Popeye's popularity grows

Fleisher Studios adapted Popeye into a series of animated shorts and the visibility of the cartoons increased the popularity of the sailor. Popeye was later licensed by King Features and hundreds of games, toys, and other products were created. The commercial success of Popeye-related products was so vast that by 1938 King Features was paying Segar $100,000 dollars a year. Popeye has a number of popular slogans that fans continue to utilize which include the following.

  • I'm strong to the finich, 'cause I eats me spinach, I'm Popeye the sailor man!" .
  • .."That's all I can stands, I can stands no more."
  • "Where's the entrance to the exit?" ..
  • "I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam."
  • "I'll take all on one at a time!" ...
  • "I ain't no tailor but I know what suits me." ...


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Popeye's love for spinach

Popeye the sailor's love for spinach came from something that happened 59 years before he was introduced to newspaper audiences. In 1870, German chemist Erich von Wolf, examined the amount of iron within many green vegetables including spinach. While recording his findings, von Wolf accidentally misplaced a decimal which increased the iron content in spinach from 3.5 milligrams in a 100-gram serving to 35 milligrams. This caused spinach to be considered a superfood and is the reason the studio executives recommended that Popeye eat spinach when he needed super strength, Thanks to Popeye the consumption of spinach increased by1/3. Many Popeye fans eagerly awaited the moment in each cartoon when the sailor was in trouble and reached for his can of spinach. This was especially true when Popeye was fighting Bluto or Brutus. Fans also enjoyed the vaied methos the silor utilized in order to obtain a can of spinich and or open it

Jack Mercer and Popeye

Jack Mercer and Popeye

Jack Mercer the voice behind the character

Part of the charm of Popeye is his iconic voice and his cackle. The man behind the voice was Jack Mercer who was only eighteen when he landed the role of the sailor.. Mercer said he was frightened out of concern that he would not be able to sustain Popeye's voice for a long period of time. Jack had a high-pitched voice which he used for female characters. Popeye's voice was deep so his portrayer would go home each day and practice continually so his voice would be deep enough. Mercer appeared in four movies that have been selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress because they are considered "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant.": They are Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor in 1936, plus Disney classics Pinocchio in 1940, Dumbo in 1941, and Sleeping Beauty (1959;).

Popeye cartoons can currently be seen along with other animated classics weekday mornings on Toon in with Me on MeTV from 7:00-8:00 PM. Popeye and Pink Panther Party is on the same network on Saturday morning 7:00 AM. You can also find Popeye on some streaming services.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Cheryl E Preston

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