Theodor Seuss Geisel, known as Dr. Seuss, was an American children’s author, political cartoonist, and animator, born on March 2, 1904, and died on September 24, 1991. He is best known for writing and illustrating over 60 books under the pseudonym Dr. Seuss. His work includes many of the most popular children’s books of all time, selling over 600 million copies and translated into more than 20 languages at the time of his death.
Geisel adopted the name Dr. Seuss while an undergraduate at Dartmouth College and continued to use it as a graduate student at Lincoln College, Oxford. He left Oxford in 1927 to begin his career as an illustrator and cartoonist for Vanity Fair, Life and various other publications. He also worked as an illustrator for advertising campaigns, including FLIT and Standard Oil, and as a political cartoonist for the New York newspaper PM. He published his first children’s book, And to think that i saw it on mulberry street, in 1937. During World War II, he briefly left children’s literature to illustrate political cartoons. He also worked in the animation and film department of the States Army, where he wrote, produced, and animated numerous productions – both live action and animated – including Design for Death, which went on to win the 1947 award for best feature documentary.
After the war, Geisel returned to writing children’s books, penning such classics as If I Ran the Zoo (1950), Horton Hears a Who! (1955), If I Ran the Circus (1956), The Cat in the Hat (1957), How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957) and Green Eggs and Ham (1960). He published more than 60 books during his career, which resulted in numerous adaptations, including eleven television specials, five feature films, a Broadway musical, and four television series.
Geisel won the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1958 for Horton Hatches the Egg and again in 1961 for And to think that I saw it on Mulberry street. Geisel’s birthday, March 2, has been adopted as the annual date for National Read Across America Day, a reading initiative created by the National Education Association.
Alternatives:Early yearsFirst years
Geisel was born and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts, the son of Henrietta (née Seuss) and Theodor Robert Geisel. His father ran the family brewery and was later appointed to oversee Springfield’s public park system by Mayor John A. Denison after the brewery closed due to a ban. Mulberry Street in Springfield, made famous in his first children’s book, And To Think I Saw Him on Mulberry Street, is near his childhood home, Fairfield Street. The family was of German descent, and Geisel and her sister Marnie were victims of anti-German prejudice by other children after the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
Geisel attended Dartmouth College, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1925. At Dartmouth, he joined the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and the Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern humor magazine, eventually reaching the rank of editor. At Dartmouth, he was caught drinking gin with nine friends in his room. At the time, the possession and consumption of alcohol was illegal under the prohibition laws that remained in effect from 1920 to 1933. As a result of this violation, Dean Craven Laycock insisted that Geisel resign from all extracurricular activities, including the Jack-O- Lantern. To continue working on the magazine without the knowledge of the administration, Geisel began signing his work with the pseudonym “Seuss.” He was encouraged in his writing by rhetoric professor W. Benfield Pressey, whom he described as “a great inspiration for writing” at Dartmouth.
After graduating from Dartmouth, he entered Lincoln College (Oxford) with the intention of earning a doctorate in English literature. At Oxford, he met Helen Palmer, who encouraged him to give up being an English professor in favor of a career in drawing. She later recalled that “Ted’s notebooks were always filled with these fabulous animals. So I set to work to entertain him; here was a man who could draw such pictures; he should make a living doing it.”
Alternatives:Early careerBeginning of careerBeginning of the career
Geisel left Oxford without completing his thesis and returned to the United States in February 1927, where he immediately began submitting writings and drawings to magazines, book publishers, and advertising agencies. Taking advantage of his time in Europe, he submitted a series of drawings called Eminent Europeans to Life, but the magazine passed on it. His first nationally published cartoon appeared in the July 16, 1927 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. This one-time $25 sale prompted Geisel to move from Springfield to New York. Later that year, Geisel took a job as a writer and illustrator for the humor magazine Judge and felt financially secure enough to marry Helen. His first cartoon for Judge appeared on October 22, 1927 and the Geisels were married on November 29. Geisel’s first work signed “Dr. Seuss” was published in Judge about six months after he began working there.
In early 1928, one of Geisel’s cartoons in Judge mentioned Flit, a common insect repellent manufactured at the time by Standard Oil of New Jersey . According to Geisel, the wife of a publicity manager in charge of advertising, Flit saw Geisel’s drawing at a barbershop and urged her husband to sign it. Geisel’s first Flit ad appeared on May 31, 1928, and the campaign continued sporadically until 1941. The campaign slogan, “Quick, Henry, the Flit!” became part of popular culture. It spawned a song and was used as a punch line for comedians such as Fred Allen and Jack Benny. As Geisel gained notoriety for the Flit campaign, his work was in demand and began to appear regularly in magazines such as Life, Liberty and Vanity Fair.
The money Geisel earned from his advertising and publishing work made him wealthier than even his most successful classmates at Dartmouth. The increased income allowed the Geisels to move to better neighborhoods and socialize in higher social circles. They became friends with the wealthy family of banker Frank A. Vanderlip. They also traveled extensively: by 1936, Geisel and his wife had visited 30 countries together. They had no children, they also had no regular office hours, and they had plenty of money. Geisel also felt that travel helped his creativity.
Geisel’s success with the Flit campaign led to more advertising work, including for other Standard Oil products such as Essomarine Boat Fuel and Essolube Motor Oil and for other companies such as Ford Motor Company, NBC Radio Network and Holly Sugar. His first foray into books, Boners, a collection of children’s sayings he illustrated, was published by Viking Press in 1931. It topped the New York Times non-romance bestseller list and led to a sequel, More Boners, published the same year. Encouraged by book sales and positive critical reception, Geisel wrote and illustrated an ABC book featuring “very strange animals” that failed to interest publishers.
In 1936, Geisel and his wife were returning from an ocean voyage to Europe when the rhythm of the ship’s engines inspired the poem that became his first children’s book: And To Think I Saw Him on Mulberry Street. According to Geisel’s various accounts, the book was rejected by 20 to 43 publishers . According to Geisel, he was walking home to burn the manuscript when a chance meeting with a former Dartmouth classmate led to its publication by Vanguard Press. Geisel wrote four other books before the United States entered World War II. These included Bartholomew Cubbins’ 500 Hats in 1938, and The King’s Stilts and Seven Lady Godivas in 1939, all of which were in prose, atypically for him. Horton Hatches the Egg followed in 1940, in which Geisel returned to the use of poetry.
Alternatives:During the Second World WarDuring World War II
At the outbreak of World War II, Geisel turned to political cartoons and drew more than 400 in two years as an editorial cartoonist for New York City’s left-leaning daily, PM. Geisel’s political cartoons, later published in Dr. Seuss Goes to War, denounced Hitler and Mussolini and sharply criticized non-interventionists (“isolationists”), including Charles Lindbergh, who opposed U.S. entry into the war. One cartoon depicts Japanese Americans under TNT after a “call from their country,” while other cartoons deplored racism in their country toward Jews and blacks who were harming the war effort. of the war, combining the usual exhortations to ration and contribute to the war effort with frequent attacks on Congress (especially the Republican Party), parts of the press (such as the New York Daily News, the Chicago Tribune, and Washington Times-Herald), and others for criticizing Roosevelt, criticizing aid to the Soviet Union, investigating suspected communists, and other offenses he had described as leading to disunity and aiding the Nazis, intentionally or inadvertently.
In 1942, Geisel devoted all his energy to directly supporting the American war effort. He began by designing posters for the Treasury Department and the War Production Board. Then, in 1943, he joined the Army as a captain and commander of the animation department of the U.S. Army Air Forces’ first film unit, where he wrote films including Your Job in Germany, a 1945 propaganda film about peace. in Europe after World War II; Our Work in Japan; and the Private Snafu series of adult army training films. In the army, he was awarded the Legion of Merit. Our Work in Japan became the basis for the commercialized film Design for Death (1947), a study of Japanese culture that won the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary. Gerald McBoing-Boing (1950) was based on an original story by Seuss and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short.
Alternatives:End of lifeEnd-of-lifeEnd of life care
After the war, Geisel and his wife moved to La Jolla, California, where he returned to writing children’s books. He published most of his books through Random House in North America and William Collins, Sons (later HarperCollins) internationally. He wrote many, including such favorites as If I Ran to the Zoo (1950), Horton Hears a Who! (1955), If I Ran to the Circus (1956), The Cat in the Hat (1957), How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957). He received many awards throughout his career, but he did not win either the Caldecott or Newbery Medals. Three of his titles from this period, however, were chosen as Caldecott finalists (now called Caldecott Honor Books): McElligot’s Pool (1947), Bartholomew and the Oobleck (1949), and If I Ran the Zoo (1950). Dr. Seuss also wrote the musical fantasy film The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T., released in 1953. The film was a financial and critical failure, and Geisel never attempted to make another feature film. During the 1950s, he also published a number of illustrated short stories, primarily in Redbook Magazine. Some of these were later collected (in volumes such as The Sneetches and Other Stories) or reprinted in independent books (If I Ran the Zoo). A number have never been reprinted since their original appearances.
In May 1954, Life magazine published an article on illiteracy among school children that concluded that children were not learning to read because their books were boring. William Ellsworth Spaulding was the director of the education division at Houghton Mifflin (he later became its president) and compiled a list of 348 words he thought were important for first graders. He asked Geisel to reduce the list to 250 words and write a book using only those words. Spaulding challenged Geisel to “bring back a book that the kids can’t put down.” Nine months later, Geisel completed The Cat in the Hat, using 236 words. It retained the drawing style, verse rhythms, and all the imaginative power of Geisel’s earlier work, but, because of its simplified vocabulary, it could be read by beginning readers. The Cat in the Hat and subsequent works written for young children enjoyed significant international success and remain popular today. In 2009, Green Eggs and Ham sold 540,366 copies, The Cat in the Hat sold 452,258 copies, and One Fish, Two Fish, Goldfish, Bluefish (1960) sold 409,068 copies, more than most recently published children’s books.
Geisel went on to write many more children’s books, both in his new simplified vocabulary (sold as beginner’s books) and in his older, more sophisticated style.
In 1956, Dartmouth awarded Geisel an honorary doctorate, finally legitimizing the “doctor” in his pen name.
On April 28, 1958, Geisel appeared on an episode of the game show To Tell the Truth.
Geisel’s wife Helen had a long struggle with illnesses, including cancer and emotional pain, as a result of Geisel’s affair with Audrey Stone Dimond. On October 23, 1967, Helen died by suicide. Geisel married Dimond on June 21, 1968. Although he spent most of his life writing children’s books, Geisel had no children of his own, saying of children, “You have them; I will entertain them.” Dimond added that Geisel “lived his whole life without children and was very happy without children.” Audrey oversaw Geisel’s estate until his death on December 19, 2018, at the age of 97.
Geisel was awarded the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for Professional Children’s Librarians in 1980, recognizing her “substantial and lasting contributions to children’s literature.” At the time, it was awarded every five years. He won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1984, citing his “contributions over nearly half a century to the education and entertainment of American children and their parents.”
Geisel died of oral cancer on Sept. 24, 1991, at his home in La Jolla at the age of 87. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered.
On December 1, 1995, four years after his death, the University of California, San Diego library building was renamed Geisel Library in honor of Geisel and Audrey for their generous contributions to the library and their dedication to improving literacy.
While Geisel lived in La Jolla, the U.S. Postal Service and others often confused him with fellow La Jolla resident Hans Suess, a noted nuclear physicist. Their names were posthumously linked: the personal papers of Hans Suess are housed in the Geisel Library .
In 2002, the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden opened at his birthplace in Springfield, Massachusetts, featuring sculptures by Geisel and several of his characters. On May 28, 2008, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver announced that Geisel would be inducted into the California Hall of Fame, located at the California Museum of History, Women and the Arts. The induction ceremony took place on December 15 and Geisel’s widow, Audrey, accepted the honor in his stead. On March 2, 2009, web search engine Google temporarily changed its logo to celebrate Geisel’s birthday (a practice it has often followed for various holidays and events) .
In 2004, the American Children’s Librarians established the annual Theodor Seuss Geisel Award to recognize “the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the previous year.” It should “demonstrate creativity and imagination in engaging children in reading” from pre-kindergarten through second grade.
Mr. Seuss’ honors include two Academy Awards, two Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal and the Pulitzer Prize.
Dr. Seuss has a star on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, in the 6500 block of Hollywood Boulevard.
In 2021, the company that manages the rights to Dr. Seuss announced the removal of six of the popular American author’s illustrated books from the catalog, claiming that they contained “racial stereotypes” and cartoonish depictions. Among the titles removed was And To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street. The withdrawal sparked controversy in the United States, with conservatives rallying around what they described as cultural cleansing.
Alternatives:Works published in FrenchPublished works in French
Alternatives:Cinema and televisionFilm and televisionCinema and TV