Osborn was famous as an illustrator of books and magazines throughout a long and successful career, but did you know he was the creator of another Dilbert, who appeared in thousands of posters and service manuals describing all sorts of hazards to U.S. Navy pilots during World War II.
Robert Osborn was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin on 26 October 1904, the second son of a saw mill owner whom he jokingly described as a "lumber baron". The elder Osborn introduced his young son to the great outdoors, hunting and fishing on Lake Winnebago.The boy’s artistic mother kindled his imagination with gifts of books and visits to the theater. Osborn confessed in his autobiography Osborn on Osborn (see below) published in 1982 by Ticknor &Fields, that his early loves were airplanes and cars. It wasn’t long before he became personally acquainted with the grand Bugattis, Delahayes, and Hispanos in pre-World War II France; and World War II aircraft of the United States Navy, which figured prominently in his Dilbert series of humorous instructional drawings.
Osborn entered the University of Wisconsin, a state school, in 1923, but was forced to leave when stricken with a duodenal ulcer. In 1924 he was accepted at Yale University and reentered another freshman year only to fail his course in art.
Upon graduating he left in 1927 for Rome via London and Paris where he pursued his studies in drawing and painting for several years, at one time returning to the USA to teach at Hotchkiss, a preparatory school in Connecticut. He was not very successful in selling his paintings, and in 1940 he sold three cartoon paperback books to American publisher Coward McCann.
Osborn tried to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force but was turned down because of his medical history. He was more successful when friends helped him connect with the Navy Department in Washington where he received orders to report to a unit which published books, pamphlets, and posters dedicated to educating personnel of the many hazards involved in flying.
It was here that Osborn created Dilbert, sitting next to the desk of legendary photographer Edward Steichen, a pioneer in the use of aerial photography for the U.S. Army in World War I, now serving in his second war as an officer in the U.S. Navy. Steichen also introduced Osborn to Elodie Courter, a visiting department head from the Museum of Modern Art, who later became Mrs. Robert Osborn.
Photo of Robert Osborn by Edward Steichen.
This booklet was all about keeping secrets from the Axis enemy during World War II. Though it was never made public, the Axis forces had espionage agents and their sources diligently gathering information within the U.S., the armed forces, and defense industries. It wasn’t widely known to the general public beyond an admonition of caution and restraint in discussing sensitive information. Loose Lips Sink Ships was a memorable phrase from that period. May 1944.
Inga Arvad, 28, a beautiful Danish journalist who wrote a gossip column for the Washington Times-Herald had a love affair with 24 year-old naval intelligence officer John F. Kennedy. J. Edgar Hoover suspected her of being a Nazi spy and was instrumental in getting JFK sent off to the Pacific. Osborn knew nothing of this, of course, but he knew how a cool young officer should comport himself in a delicate situation. Click to enlarge. Don’t miss the curled toes.