John Francis Knott, political cartoonist and artist, was born on December 7, 1878, in Pilsen, Austria (now Plze&Thorn;, Czech Republic), to Francis Joseph and Anna (Hajek) Knott. When he was five years old, he immigrated with his widowed mother to Sioux City, Iowa, where he attended public school. His first published drawing appeared in the Sioux City Journal when he was sixteen; he also collected several small prizes offered by the Chicago Record for cartoons on local issues. He soon persuaded his mother to allow him to go to Chicago. There he unsuccessfully sought a position as staff cartoonist with a newspaper, accepted work as a cub draftsman for an architect, and enrolled in night courses at the Holmes School of Illustration. In 1901, partly because of chronic tonsillitis exacerbated by Chicago winters, he accepted a job offer from a Sioux City engraver about to open the first engraving shop in Dallas. Knott spent his first four years in Dallas illustrating harness and saddlery catalogs for White Engraving Company. There he met D. Prescott Toomey, an artist and managing editor of the Dallas Morning News, who offered him work at the newspaper as a full-time artist.
Knott's career with the News began on December 1, 1905, with general illustration and artistic duties. He had not lost sight of his cartoonist ambitions but he was doubtful they would be realized in Dallas. His first signed artwork appeared on January 1, 1906, and his first sports cartoon ran in 1907. In 1910 Knott decided he needed more training and took his family to Munich, Germany, where he spent three semesters at the Royal Academy of Art. When his savings ran out, he accepted the invitation the News extended to him to return to its staff, and in November 1911 his work began appearing on the front page. He began drawing daily cartoons during Woodrow Wilson's first presidential campaign, and during World War I he attracted national and international attention. His cartoons were reprinted in Literary Digest and Review of Reviews. In 1918 he published a book of his work, War Cartoons.
Texas newspapers widely acknowledged that Knott helped increase the sales of Liberty Bonds and donations to agencies involved in the war effort. His most famous character, "Old Man Texas," was devised in 1906 to symbolize rural Texas, honesty in government, low taxes, and property ownership. In 1920 Knott was awarded an honorary degree by Baylor University. In 1939 he received the National Headliners' Club Award and in 1941 a National Safety Council citation. The State Department cited him in 1950 for his work to combat Soviet aggression, and the Society of Professional Journalists recognized him as best cartoonist in 1951. Knott retired from the News in 1957, having turned out more than 15,000 cartoons in his fifty-year career. His work has been reprinted in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Evening Post, the New York Herald Tribune, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Los Angeles Times, and the Philadelphia Public Ledger.
Knott was a member of the Philosophical Society of Texas and the Texas State Historical Association. For almost twenty years he taught painting in the evenings in Dallas public schools. On February 22, 1907, he married Carrie Louise Bowen (d. 1953); they had four children. Knott died in Dallas on February 16, 1963.