Childhood & Early Life
Dr. Seuss was born Theodor Seuss “Ted” Geisel on 2 March 1904, in Springfield, Massachusetts, USA, to Theodor Robert Geisel and Henrietta (née Seuss). His paternal and maternal grandparents were German immigrants. His father was a successful brew master who later took to managing public park system.
He received his preliminary education from ‘Springfield Central High School,’ graduating from the same in 1921. While at school, he took art classes as a freshman.
He then enrolled at ‘Dartmouth College’ from where he graduated in 1925. While at college, he became part of the ‘Sigma Phi Epsilon’ fraternity. He contributed to the college’s humor magazine ‘Jack-O-Lantern,’ eventually rising to the rank of chief editor.
Despite being barred from contributing to the magazine due to the violation of ‘Prohibition Law,’ which banned drinking, he continued writing for the magazine under the pseudonym ‘Seuss,’ which stayed with him for the better part of his life.
He later took admission at ‘Lincoln College,’ Oxford, to earn a PhD in English Literature. However, Helen Palmer, whom he met at Oxford, encouraged him to give up on the same and pursue a career in drawing.
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Moving back to America in 1927, he started submitting his work to various magazines, publishing houses, and advertising agencies. His first ever published cartoon appeared on July 16, 1927 in ‘The Saturday Evening Post’ under the pen name Seuss.
Positive response for his debut work encouraged him to relocate to New York where he found job as writer and illustrator for the humor magazine ‘Judge.’ His first ever printed work for ‘Judge’ appeared on the October 22, 1927 issue.
He was soon employed by ‘Standard Oil’ for their advertising department. His ad for ‘Flit,’ a common insecticide, caused a nation-wide stir and made him famous. The catchphrase ‘Quick Henry, the Flit’ not only became the talk of the town, it also spawned a song and was used as a punch line.
The ‘Flit’ campaign earned him fame and soon, his work started appearing in acclaimed magazines, such as ‘Life,’ ‘Liberty,’ and ‘Vanity Fair.’ He even started churning out advertising campaigns for ‘General Electric,’ NBC, ‘Standard Oil,’ ‘Narragansett Brewing Company,’ and many other companies.
He got an opportunity to work for children’s book when he was offered a contract by ‘Viking Press’ to illustrate a collection of children's sayings called ‘Boners.’ Though the book was not a commercial success, his work was well-received. Furthermore, it gave him his first breakthrough in children’s literature.
An increase in income allowed him to travel freely. While returning from one of his ocean voyages, he was inspired to write a poem which eventually became his first book ‘And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.’
Interestingly, ‘And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street’ was rejected by around 27 publishers before his friend agreed to publish it through ‘Vanguard Press.’ Before America’s involvement in ‘World War II,’ he penned four more books, namely ‘The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins,’ ‘The King's Stilts,’ ‘The Seven Lady Godivas,’ and ‘Horton Hatches the Egg.’
In 1934, he produced a 30-page booklet titled ‘Secrets of the Deep.’ Because of a major demand, he released a second volume of ‘Secrets’ the following summer. In 1937, he sculpted ‘Marine Muggs’ and designed a flag for the ‘Seuss Navy.’
At the time of ‘World War II,’ he started contributing to the New York City daily newspaper ‘PM.’ Working as editorial cartoonist he turned to political cartoons, drawing about 400 cartoons in two years. He was supportive of President Roosevelt's handling of the war.
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In 1942, since he was too old to be drafted into ‘World War II,’ he took up the position of a commander for the Animation Department of the ‘First Motion Picture Unit’ of the ‘United States Army Air Forces.’ He indulged in making animated training films and propaganda posters for ‘Treasury Department’ and the ‘War Production Board.’
After the war ended, he returned to California along with his wife and rekindled his passion for writing children’s books. Some of his works from this time period include ‘If I Ran the Zoo,’ ‘Horton Hears a Who!,’ ‘If I Ran the Circus,’ etc.
In 1953, the musical and fantasy film ‘The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T’ was released. He wrote the story of the film. During this time, he published a number of illustrated short stories in ‘Redbook’ magazine.
Year 1954 was an important one for Dr. Seuss as it was marked with important milestones. ‘Life’ magazine’s report of illiteracy among school children and their lack of interest to read gave rise to a challenging task for Dr. Seuss as he was instructed to write a book using a list of 250 words that were considered important for first graders to know.
Not the one to back out of a challenge, he came up with a children’s book titled ‘The Cat in the Hat’ which drew ground-breaking demand. The book was a major success and cemented his position in children’s literature.
Following the breakthrough success of ‘The Cat in the Hat,’ he came up with other books that replicated the success of ‘The Cat in the Hat,’ making him popular all over. Some of these books include ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ and ‘One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.’
Later, he penned numerous books, trying his hand at different styles of writing. ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ was one of his eminent works from this time period. The book was adapted into a comedy film by the same name. It was also adapted into another feature film titled ‘The Grinch.’
Awards & Achievements
For his service in the Army, he was honored with the prestigious ‘Legion of Merit.’
In 1956, he was awarded an honorary doctorate, legitimizing the title in his pen name.
In 1984, he received a special ‘Pulitzer Prize’ for ‘contribution over nearly half a century to the education and enjoyment of America's children and their parents.’
Furthermore, he was the proud recipient of two ‘Academy Awards,’ two ‘Emmy Awards,’ a ‘Peabody Award,’ ‘Lewis Carroll Shelf Award,’ and ‘Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal.’
Personal Life & Legacy
He tied the nuptial knot with his long-time sweetheart Helen Palmer on November 29, 1927. The couple had no children.
On October 23, 1967, Palmer committed suicide, tired of her illness and the emotional turmoil caused by Geisel’s extramarital affair with Audrey Stone Dimond.
Following his wife’s death, he married Audrey Stone Dimond on June 21, 1968. He did not have any children from his marriage with Audrey.
He breathed his last on September 24, 1991, due to oral cancer. His body was cremated and the ashes were scattered.
Several universities, educational institutes, libraries, roads, state gardens, and public places have been named after him to honor his outstanding contribution in the field of English Literature.
He was posthumously inducted into the ‘California Hall of Fame.’ Additionally, he has a star on the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ at the 6500 block of Hollywood Boulevard.