The Story of Dr. Seuss
by Michael Kabel
The writer who would become known simply as Dr. Seuss was born Theodore Geisel in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1902. His father, a parks commander, managed a state wilderness preserve but owned a zoo on the preserve's grounds. While attending Dartmouth College as still a freshman in 1925, Geisel was named editor-in-chief of the college newspaper, the Jack-O-Lantern, until a youthful scrape with Prohibition forced him to resign. In order to continue to working for the paper, Geisel began using signing his work with the name "Seuss," both his middle name and his mother's maiden name. "Seuss," a German word pronounced "zoice," would become his penname, even though most of the English-speaking world would mispronounce it to rhyme with "juice."
Geisel's first work as "Dr. Seuss" appeared in the humor magazine The Judge. He also used the penname Theo LaSieg (his name spelled backwards) on books he wrote but others illustrated. In 1927, while attending Lincoln College in Oxford, Geisel married a young woman named Helen Palmer, and returned to the United States without completing his degree. The doctorate in his penname, Geisel would later explain, was a way of recognizing his father's failed hopes that Theodore would become a doctor at Oxford.
Geisel began submitting articles and illustrations to such famous magazines as The Saturday Evening Post , Life, and Vanity Fair, where his work became very popular. During the Great Depression, he supported himself and his wife by drawing advertisements for NBC, General Electric, and other companies. In 1937, the steady rhythm of a ship's engine inspired him to write his first poem book, And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street.
During World War II, Geisel drew over 400 political cartoons for the New York newspaper PM . In 1943, he joined the Army and was given command of the Animation Unit of the First Motion Picture Unit. He published several short children's books and in 1950 his short film Gerald McBoing-Boing won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Subject.
Geisel and his wife relocated to La Jolla, California after the war, and in 1954 a Life magazine article about child illiteracy changed the course of his life. The article reported that most children with difficulty reading found many available children's books boring. Geisel's publisher compiled a list of 400 words he believed important and asked the author to cut the list to 250 and write a book using only those words. Nine months later, Geisel finished his classic work, The Cat In The Hat using 220 of the words. The book became an instant success. Two years later, he also published The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
One legend surrounding Dr. Seuss says that a publisher bet him $50 that Geisel couldn't write a children's book using only fifty words. According to the tale, the book that came out of the friendly wager was Green Eggs and Ham. Geisel also wrote many books for adults, of which the most famous is probably Oh, The Places You'll Go!
Geisel published a total of forty-four children's books, becoming probably the most famous children's author in history. Following his death in 1991, the National Education Association proclaimed his birthday, March 2, as Read Across America Day. His work has been adapted to television and film dozens of times, and there is even an amusement park ride based on his stories. In 2002, Springfield Massachusetts opened the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. The wide park includes sculptures of many of his beloved characters. A guide to Dr. Seuss books.