Thomas Nast’s cartoon shows a donkey in a lion’s skin scaring an elephant and other animals. (Library of Congress)

Why is the elephant the symbol of the Republican Party and a donkey the symbol of the Democrats?

A very famous political cartoonist named Thomas Nast is credited with making these animals the symbols of their parties during the 1870s. (The donkey was first associated with the Democrats during the election of 1828, but it wasn’t until Nast used it in 1870 that many people began to link the Democrats with the donkey.)

In 1874, Nast drew the cartoon shown above with a donkey wearing a lion’s skin and scaring all the other animals in the forest. One of the animals was an elephant, and it was labeled “The Republican Vote.” And the rest, as they say, is history.

Bonus fun fact: Nast was the first person to draw Santa Claus as a fat, bearded elf. Before that, Santa had mostly been shown as a tall, thin man.