Theodor Seuss Geisel was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, to Theodor Robert and Henrietta (Seuss) Geisel. His father managed the family brewery and later supervised Springfield’s public park system after the brewery closed due to Prohibition. Suess incorporate his childhood neighborhoood into Mulberry Street in Springfield, made famous in Dr. Seuss’ first children’s book And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street! The street is less than a mile southwest of his boyhood home on Fairfield Street.
A Dartmouth College graduate of the Class of 1925, he began his literary career joining the humor magazine Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern, eventually rising to the rank of editor-in-chief. His “official” stint there was short lived after he was caught drinking gin in his dorm room with nine friends. In order to continue writing for the Jack-O-Lantern, Geisel cleverly began signing his work with the pen name “Seuss” and continued to write for the magazine until his graduation. After graduation he attended Oxford hoping to earn additional degrees. His plan was cut short when meeting, Marion Helen Palmer, a Wellesley graduate and six years older than he. They married in 1927and soon returned to the United States.
Back in the States he began submitting humorous articles and illustrations to Judge, Life, Vanity Fair, and Liberty. The July 16, 1927 issue of the The Saturday Evening Post published his first cartoon under the name Seuss. Geisel supported himself and his wife through the Great Depression by drawing advertising for General Electric, NBC, Standard Oil, Narragansett Brewing Company and many other companies. In 1935, he wrote and drew a short-lived comic strip called Hejji. Geisel gained a significant public profile through a program for motor boat lubricants produced by Standard Oil under the brand name Essomarine.
As World War II began, Geisel turned to political cartoons, drawing over 400 in two years as editorial cartoonist for the left-leaning New York City daily newspaper, PM. Geisel’s political cartoons, later published in Dr. Seuss Goes to War, denounced Hitler and Mussolini/
In 1942, Geisel turned his energies to direct support of the U.S. war effort. First, he worked drawing posters for the Treasury Department and the War Production Board. Then, in 1943, he joined the Army as a Captain (OF-2) and was commander of the Animation Dept of the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Army Air Forces, where he wrote films that included Your Job in Germany, a 1945 propaganda film about peace in Europe after World War II, Our Job in Japan, and the Private Snafu series of adult army training films. Our Job in Japan became the basis for the commercially released film, Design for Death (1947), a study of Japanese culture that won the Academy Award for Documentary Feature. Gerald McBoing-Boing (1950), which was based on an original story by Seuss, won the Academy Award for Animated Short Film.
After the war, Geisel and his wife moved to La Jolla, California. Returning to children’s books, he wrote many works, including such favorites 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). Although he received numerous awards throughout his career, Geisel won neither the Caldecott Medal nor the Newbery Medal. Three of his titles from this period were, however, chosen as Caldecott runners-up (now referred to as Caldecott Honor books): McElligot’s Pool (1937), Bartholomew and the Oobleck (1939), and If I Ran the Zoo (1950). Dr Seuss also wrote the musical and fantasy film The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, which was released in 1953. The movie was a critical and financial failure, and Geisel never attempted another feature film. During the 1950s he also published a number of illustrated short stories, mostly in Redbook Magazine.
In May 1954, Life magazine published a report on illiteracy among school children, which concluded that children were not learning to read because their books were boring. Accordingly, William Ellsworth Spaulding, the director of the education division at Houghton Mifflin who later became its Chairman, compiled a list of 348 words he felt were important for first-graders to recognize and asked Geisel to cut the list to 250 words and write a book using only those words. Spaulding challenged Geisel to “bring back a book children can’t put down.” Nine months later, Geisel, using 236 of the words given to him, completed The Cat in the Hat. It was described as a tour de force by some reviewers[who?]—it retained the drawing style, verse rhythms, and all the imaginative power of Geisel’s earlier works, but because of its simplified vocabulary could be read by beginning readers. The Cat in the Hat and subsequent books written for young children achieved significant international success and they remain very 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 Red Fish Blue Fish (1960) sold 409,068 copies—outselling the majority of newly published children’s books. Geisel went on to write many other children’s books, both in his new simplified-vocabulary manner (sold as Beginner Books) and in his older, more elaborate style. The Beginner Books were not easy for Geisel and reportedly took him months to complete.
Geisel’s earlier artwork often employed the shaded texture of pencil drawings or watercolors, but in children’s books of the postwar period he generally employed the starker medium of pen and ink, normally using just black, white, and one or two colors. Later books such as The Lorax used more colors.
Geisel’s figures are often rounded and somewhat droopy. This is true, for instance, of the faces of the Grinch and of the Cat in the Hat. It is also true of virtually all buildings and machinery that Geisel drew: although these objects abound in straight lines in real life, for buildings, this could be accomplished in part through choice of architecture. For machines, for example, If I Ran the Circus includes a droopy hoisting crane and a droopy steam calliope.
On October 23, 1967, suffering from a long struggle with illnesses including cancer, as well as emotional pain over her husband’s affair with Audrey Stone Dimond, Geisel’s wife, Helen Palmer Geisel, committed suicide. Geisel married Dimond on June 21, 1968. Though he devoted most of his life to writing children’s books, Geisel had no children of his own. He would say, when asked about this, “You have ‘em; I’ll entertain ‘em.”
Geisel died of throat cancer on September 24, 1991, after several years of poor health, in La Jolla, California.
Over the course of his career, Geisel wrote over 60 books. Though most were published under his well-known pseudonym, Dr. Seuss, he also authored over a dozen books as Theo LeSieg and one as Rosetta Stone. His books have topped many bestseller lists, sold over 222 million copies, and been translated into more than 15 languages. In 2000, Publishers Weekly compiled a list of the best-selling children’s books of all time; of the top 100 hardcover books, 16 were written by Geisel, including Green Eggs and Ham, at number 4, The Cat in the Hat, at number 9, and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, at number 13. In the years after his death in 1991, two additional books were published based on his sketches and notes: Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! and Daisy-Head Mayzie. My Many Colored Days, originally written in 1973, was posthumously published in 1996. Most recently, seven stories originally published in magazines during 1950 and 1951 were released in a collection entitled The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories in September 2011.
At various times, Geisel also wrote books for adults that used the same style of verse and pictures: The Seven Lady Godivas (1939; reprinted 1987), which included nude depictions; You’re Only Old Once! (written in 1986 when Geisel was 82) which chronicles an old man’s journey through a clinic, a satire of the inefficiency of clinics. His last book, written a year before his death, was Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, a popular gift for graduating students.