Austin Eugene Briggs was born August 9, 1908 in Humbolt, Minnesota. His father, Harold Norris Briggs, was born June 8, 1886 in Clarion, Michigan. His mother, Ethel Blanch Davison, was born May 13, 1889 in Marion, Michigan. His parents married on December 13, 1904. The groom was age eighteen and the bride was age fifteen. They had two children. Leora Blanch Briggs was born April 29, 1907 and Austin Eugene Briggs was born the following year. He was named after his two grandfathers, David Austin Davison and Ellsworth Eugene Briggs. The ancestries of both families were a mixture of Irish, Scottish and Canadian.
The father, Harold Norris Briggs, was a telegraph technician for the Rail Road. His job required frequent relocations to repair trouble spots along the route serviced by the rail company. In 1911 he suffered an accident that required emergency hospitalization in Sylvania, Ohio. His wife went to his bedside, while their two infant children remained with relatives in Marion, MI. Austin Eugene Briggs (age one) stayed with his maternal grandparents, David Austin Davison (1849-1932) and Harriette Permelia Upper Davidson (1854-1930). They lived at 91 Main Street. His older sister, Leora Blanch Briggs (age two), was boarded next door at 93 Main Street with his mother's sister, Aunt Sarah Davison Renrick, and her husband, Uncle Edward Renrick.
On June 7, 1912 the father died at the age of twenty-six. After this tragic death the widowed mother returned to Marion, MI, and resumed care of her two young children.
On May 2, 1914 Leora Blanch Briggs died at the age of seven in Marion, MI. At that time Austin Eugene Briggs was age six. His mother was not yet twenty-five.
After this second tragic death the mother and son left Marion to seek a fresh start in Detroit, Michigan, where the mother met Percival "Percy" Duckworth Wilson. He was born in 1893 in England and came to America in 1913 and settled in Detroit, where he worked as an automobile salesman.
In 1916 Ethel Briggs married Percy Wilson and moved to 117 Peterson Street in Detroit. Austin Eugene Briggs returned to live with his elderly maternal grandparents in Marion, MI, where he attended elementary school.
In June of 1921 at the age of thirteen Austin Briggs completed the eighth grade at the Old School House in Marion on West Main Street and then entered the work force.
In 1922, at the age of fourteen he was awarded a scholarship to study art in Detroit at the Wicker Art School. He left his grandparents in Marion and moved back to Detroit to live with his mother and step-father.
Detroit at that time enjoyed phenomenal industrial growth. Assembly-line manufacturers spent big budgets on advertising, which fueled a significant local market for advertising agencies.
In 1925 at the age of seventeen, Austin Briggs began to work as a staff artist at a Detroit art agency . At that same time he began to sell freelance illustrations to a Michigan newspaper, The Dearborn Independent.
In 1927 Austin Briggs married Ellen Jeanette Pallme Weber. She was born in 1909 in Michigan. Her father, Lorne W. Weber, was a Lawyer born in 1884 in Canada. Her mother, Harriet Jeanette Weber, was born in 1886 in Michigan, and was also of Canadian ancestry.
For the first three years of married life Austin Briggs and his wife lived with her parents in Detroit at 631 West Philadelphia Street.
In 1931 his son, Austin Eugene Briggs, Jr., was born in Detroit.
In 1932 the artist moved to New York City to seek his fortune as a commercial artist. He enrolled at the Art Students League at 215 West 57th Street. His most influential teachers were Frank Dumond (1865-1951) and George Bridgman (1865-1943).
He rented a suburban home for his wife and son at 2 Wakeman Place in Mamaroneck, NY, which was a popular area for artists in the New Rochelle community, where Norman Rockwell , Charles LaSalle, and Joseph Christian Leyendecker lived and worked.
In 1933 his daughter Lorna Briggs was born in New York.
Austin Briggs painted movie posters for Paramount. His black and white story illustrations were published in McClure's Magazine and Red Book.
After 1930 his work appeared in the pulp magazine Blue Book.
In 1938 he was an assistant to Alex Raymond (1909-1956), who drew the syndicated newspaper comic strip, Flash Gordon. Eventually Austin Briggs took over that comic strip and drew it from 1940 to 1944.
During WWII he was thirty-five, married and the father of two children, so he was not selected for military service.
During the 1940s he illustrated many of the top magazines, such as Reader's Digest, McCall's, Ladies Home Journal, The Saturday Evening Post, and Cosmopolitan.
In 1952 he was among the twelve founding members of the Famous Artists School in Westport Connecticut, a popular correspondence art school that offered constructive criticism from the top artists. He moved to Connecticut and remained associated with the school until 1972. Some of the other art instructors at the school were Emery Clarke, Rudolph Belarski, Richard Case and Walt Reed.
During the 1960s when classic illustration art had gone out of fashioned Austin Briggs illustrated Postage Stamps, phonograph record album covers, and travel posters for airlines.
In 1971 he divorced his wife of forty-four years.
In 1972 he married his second wife, Agnes Fawcett.
Austin Briggs died at the age of sixty-five on October 9, 1973 in Paris, France.
© David Saunders 2014