Caspar Milquetoast was a comic strip character created by H. T. Webster for his cartoon series The Timid Soul. Webster described Caspar Milquetoast as "the man who speaks softly and gets hit with a big stick". The character's name is a deliberate misspelling of the name of a bland and fairly inoffensive food, milk toast. Milk toast, light and easy to digest, is an appropriate food for someone with a weak or "nervous" stomach.
In 1912, Webster drew a daily panel for the New-York Tribune, under a variety of titles—Our Boyhood Ambitions, Life's Darkest Moment, The Unseen Audience. In 1924, Webster moved to the New York World and soon after added The Timid Soul featuring the wimpy Caspar Milquetoast. Milquetoast developed out of the design of another character, Egbert Smear, or the Man in the Brown Derby. The character was said to have ushered in a new era of timidity in comics.
In 1927, Webster trained himself to draw left-handed in three months after a severe case of arthritis impaired the use of his right hand. In 1931, the World folded, and that same year, Simon & Schuster published a collection of The Timid Soul reprints. Webster then went back to the Tribune, where he launched a Timid Soul Sunday strip. He alternated his various features throughout the week: Caspar Milquetoast was seen on both Sunday and Monday. The character was featured in books, film, radio programs and vaudeville acts. Webster continued to produce this syndicated panel until his death in 1952, after which his assistant Herb Roth carried it on for another year.
In November 1945, Webster was featured on the cover of Time magazine. The accompanying article said, "millions of Americans know Caspar Milquetoast as well as they know Tom Sawyer and Andrew Jackson, better than they know George F. Babbitt, and any amount better than they know such world figures as Mr. Micawber and Don Quixote. They know him, in fact, almost as well as they know their own weaknesses."
Because of the popularity of Webster's character, the term milquetoast came into general usage in American English to mean "weak and ineffectual" or "plain and unadventurous". When the term is used to describe a person, it typically indicates someone of an unusually meek, bland, soft or submissive nature, who is easily overlooked, written off, and who may also appear overly sensitive, timid, indecisive or cowardly. Milquetoast appears in most American English dictionaries, but is not in many other English dictionaries.
Some have suggested that Casper the Friendly Ghost, a cartoon character originating in the late 1930s, was a spoof named partially after Webster's Milquetoast, although there has been no official confirmation of this relationship.
On June 22, 1949, the DuMont Television Network adapted The Timid Soul to television as the premiere presentation of their Program Playhouse series. Caspar Milquetoast was portrayed by Ernest Truex.
- Don Markstein's Toonopedia. "Caspar Milquetoast".
- Coulton Waugh (1947). The Comics. University Press of Mississippi. p. 77. Retrieved 30 April 2015.
- Moira Davison Reynolds (2003). Comic Strip Artists in American Newspapers, 1945-1980. p. 28. Retrieved 30 April 2015.
- Warren Allen Smith (2012). Unforgettable New Canaanites. Lulu.com. p. 313. Retrieved 30 April 2015.
- Not in Chambers, Collins, or even Longman (which includes most US expressions), and Compact Oxford English Dictionary says "chiefly N. Amer."
- Jim Beckerman (28 March 1995). "1940S GHOST, 1990S SPIRIT". The Bergen County Record. Retrieved 30 April 2015.
- Webster, H.T. Introduction by Ring Lardner, The Timid Soul, Simon and Schuster (1931).
- The Best of H. T. Webster: A Memorial Collection, Simon and Schuster (1953), hardcover, 254 pages.