Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!
Today, March 2, marks the birthday of one of the best-loved children’s authors (and illustrators) of all time– Dr. Seuss!
Theodor Seuss Geisel was born on March 2, 1904 in Springfield, Massachusetts. He and his siblings were raised speaking both English and German. Perhaps little Ted’s first influence was his mother, who would recite poetry to her children every night at bedtime. As a young boy he was also an avid reader, reading at adult level by the age of ten. Also during his childhood, Ted spent many hours at the Springfield Zoo. He had a knack for drawing. Even at that young age, he would add his own bizarre twists to the animals he’d seen.
In high school, not surprisingly, Ted worked on the school newspaper, writing jokes and short poems, and contributing cartoons. He went on to attend Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. He was editor-in-chief of the university’s humor magazine, until he and some of his buddies got caught drinking gin. (This was during prohibition, mind you!) Geisel was subsequently banned from extracurricular activities, including writing for the college magazine. This was when he adopted the pen name “Seuss,” which was his mother’s maiden name.
After graduating from Dartmouth, Ted went on to attend Lincoln College in Oxford, England, seeking a PhD English Literature there. He thought he’d become an English teacher. However, he wound up leaving Oxford without earning a degree and returned to the U.S.
1927 was an important year for Geisel. First, he landed a job as a writer and illustrator at a humor magazine called Judge. In November of that year, he married his sweetheart, Helen, whom he’d met in England. During this period, he was still signing his works as “Seuss,” and he soon added the “Dr.” prefix. His first nationally published cartoon appeared in the Saturday Evening Post. During the tough years of the Great Depression, Geisel managed to bring in enough money to support himself and Helen, by drawing advertisements for companies like General Electric, Standard Oil, and NBC.
It wasn’t until 1936, when returning from an overseas voyage to Europe, that Geisel conceived the idea for his first book. He later recalled that the the rhythmic sounds of the ship’s engines inspired the rhyming pattern for And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street. The manuscript was rejected by dozens of publishers before being accepted by Vanguard Press. It was finally published in 1937.
Dozens more children’s books would follow, spanning the next nine decades. Some of Dr. Seuss’s most memorable titles include: The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, Horton Hears a Who, The Lorax, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. He also wrote and illustrated books for beginning readers, such as Hop on Pop, Fox in Socks, and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.
Ironically, as beloved as he was by children all over the world, he never had any offspring of his own. His first wife, Helen, was unable to bear children. However, his second wife, Audrey, did provide him with two stepdaughters.
Theodor Geisel passed away from lung cancer on September 24, 1991. But even death could not end this brilliant writer’s illustrious career! Years later, his widow, Audrey, was sorting through some of her late husbands old papers, when she came upon a wondrous discovery. It was a complete Dr. Seuss manuscript for a book, entitled What Pet Should I Get? Seuss had labeled each drawing with meticulous instructions as to what colors and hues they should be. It is estimated that Seuss wrote the book sometime between 1958 and 1962. Why he stashed it away, we may never know. What Pet Should I Get was finally published in July 2015.
Reflecting on his whimsical, magical, wildly imaginative tales, Dr. Seuss once explained: “Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”
Happy birthday, Dr. Seuss!