His tousled hair, protruding ears, freckled nose, vacantly askew eyes, and foolish grin identify him to millions as Alfred E. Neumann, the perpetual cover boy of Mad magazine. But Topekans of the 1910s knew this gap-toothed gentleman as the satisfied if somewhat stupefied customer of "Painless" Romine the dentist. Featured in newspaper and magic lantern slide show advertisements for several years in the Topeka area, his missing tooth and relaxed smile marked Romine's customer as one who had emerged from the dentist's chair with both teeth and good-nature intact—no mean feat even in these days of advanced dental techniques and efficient anesthetics.
In reality, "Painless" Romine was not an individual, but a collection of itinerant tooth-pullers: new graduates of the Topeka Dental College and other dentists who, for various reasons, had no established practice of their own. These dentists operated in the 704 Kansas Avenue office of Dr. William Romine—often misspelled as Romaine--a dentist who resided and practiced in Wichita, but kept a branch clinic in Topeka. Few of the dentists in Romine's office seem to have lingered long-most soon moved on to higher paying practices.
In the 1950s Romine's painless customer found his way to the pages of Mad magazine through an old postcard that featured the young man quoting, "Who me? I voted for Roosevelt," perhaps indicating that others besides Romine used him as an advertising symbol. The editors of Mad adopted the nameless dental patient as their own and dubbed him Alfred E. Neumann, bringing national prominence to this son of Topeka.
Neumann's origins came to light in 1959 when Topeka historian John Ripley used a copy of an advertisement featuring "Painless" Romaine in an American Heritage article on nickelodeons and magic lantern shows. Quickly recognized as Alfred E. Neumann, the happy dental patient received national attention on CBS Television where he was identified as a native Kansan.
Of the original "Painless" Romine-Dr. William Romine of Wichita-and the many temporary and nameless dentists who served as his Topeka understudies, we know very little. But, perhaps that is not too important, for we still have their representative with us in the cheerful visage of Alfred E. Neumann, who, if asked his opinion of the matter, would probably respond: "What-me worry?"
Entry: Painless Romine
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: June 2003
Date Modified: February 2011
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.