In 2000, Cooper Union art alumnus Simms Taback A'53 (1932-2011) was awarded the Caldecott Medal, the most prestigious prize given for a picture book for his Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (1999). The book, an adaptation of a Yiddish folktale, uses collage to tell the story in colorful spreads, a stellar example of the expressionistic approach to storytelling adopted by his generation of picture book illustrators. Though most celebrated for his many children’s books, Taback, a Bronx native whose first language was Yiddish, had already established a successful career in graphic design, working for Columbia Records and The New York Times, and as an advertising artist for Eastern Airlines and American Express, among others. Later, he teamed with his fellow Cooper alumnus, Push Pin Studios co-founder Reynold Ruffins A’51, to launch a greeting card company, Cardtricks. Taback was also known as an indefatigable champion of working artists, serving as president of the Graphic Artists Guild where he fought for artists’ copyrights. In short, through his art and activism, he communicated to tens of thousands of people.

Yet if it’s a matter of numbers alone, Taback almost certainly reached his biggest audience through a single package design he undertook in 1976: the box for the newly launched McDonald’s Happy Meal. The concept of the Happy Meal began in Guatemala where Yolanda Fernández de Cofiño, whose husband owned all the country’s McDonald’s franchises, began to offer what she called the “Menu Ronald,” a pre-packaged meal for children. On learning of de Cofiño’s success, McDonald’s central offices hired the marketing firm of Bernstein-Rein to develop a similar idea for the American market. The firm’s CEO, Bob Bernstein, studied his own son’s breakfast table behavior and realized that a box with stories and activities—much like kids’ cereal boxes—would lead to requests for the meals from the half-pint diners themselves. At that point Taback, well known for his whimsical children’s illustrations, was tapped to design the first Happy Meal boxes. He divided the box into different frames; in each one, he illustrated an act—a drawing challenge, a quiz, and a riddle. Today, the original sketches he made for that first Happy Meal box are in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.


Give Now Button

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.