Dr. Seuss

Megan Wood

Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known to many as Dr. Seuss, is a world-renowned author having created stories for people of all ages and loved by many for his unusual and memorable writing style. Most famously known for his children’s book, he’s penned more than just rhymes and tongue-twisters. At the beginning of his career, Dr. Seuss created ads and political cartoons. He published over 60 books, some of which were even for adults.

Dr. Seuss was simply a pen name Theodor used. It was originally used as a way for him to escape punishment in college. During his senior year, Theodor and his friends were caught drinking gin during the prohibition period. As punishment he was stripped of his editorial status for the school paper. In order to have his work published he used to pen name Dr. Seuss to slide by undetected. If you’re interested in pronouncing the name as it is meant to be, it is pronounced Zoice not Soose as most people tend to say it. Seuss is his mother’s maiden name and is of Bavarian decent.

Dr. Seuss started his career making political cartoons for newspaper, particularly for the New York newspaper PM. During the two years he was chief editorial cartoonist, he drew over 400 cartoons, over 200 of which have been republished for political propaganda. This was during WWII so many of these were about Adolf Hitler, Japan, and the war. Seuss at the time was too old for the draft so instead his war efforts were focused with Frank Capra’s Signal Corps where he made animated training films and drew propaganda posters for the Treasury Department and War Production Board. Despite popular belief, advertising is what made Dr. Seuss successful. One of his most famous advertisements was created for Flit, a popular insecticide, with the slogan “Quick, Henry, the Flit!” At the time of its origins, the slogan was equivalent to today’s saying of “Got Milk?”. It even had a song based around it. Seuss created ads for several companies including: Holly Sugar, NBC, Ford, and General Electricity. For 30 years, advertising was his main source of income.

Even though his ads are what made him successful, his children’s book are what make Dr. Seuss well-loved and well known. His first children’s book, And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street, came out in 1937 and didn’t have much success. The real breakthrough was not written until 20 years later when The Cat in the Hat was published in 1957. The book was written in a response to an article from LIFE magazine which criticized kids’ reading levels and the lack of good material for younger level readers. The director of Houghton Mifflin’s educational division, William Spaulding challenged Seuss to write “a story that first graders can’t put down.” The challenged included him to add 220 vocabulary words from a distinct list selected from a standard first grader’s vocabulary with 348 words on it. Seuss ended up using 236 words total.

The Cat in the Hat was Dr. Seuss’s second-best selling book, the first being Green Eggs and Ham, which, ironically, was also written on a bet. Bennet Cerf, the co-founder of Random House, bet Dr. Seuss $50 dollars (around $382 today) that he wouldn’t be able to write a book with 50 distinct words or less. Green Eggs and Ham had exactly 50 words, but Cerf never paid the money he owed Seuss.

Dr. Seuss became his career in politics and many political views can be seen in his books. In his book The Lorax there runs a theme of environmentalism and how humans will destroy nature if they do not try to make a change. Other books that include political themes as well include The Sneetches, Yurtle the Turtle, The Butter Battle Book, Marvin K. Mooney, and Horton Hears A Who. In The Sneetches some sneetches wear stars and there are others who do not. The book has a political opposition to anti-Semitism, anti-discrimination, and anti-racism, the star making a reference to those worn by the Jews in WWII. Yurtle the Turtle is about a turtle named Yurtle who uses others to get to the top. Yurtle is confirmed to represent Hitler, however this was not the disputed part of the book. Instead, what was disputed was the burp Seuss had played in the book, something no one did. The Butter Battle Book tells the tale of the Yooks and the Zooks, two groups who are completely different from each other who go to war, each building weapon after weapon to outdo the other. The book ends with each group having their weapons pointed at the other to see their next move. The Butter Battle Book is representing the Cold War and the arms race with the Yooks and Zooks representing the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.

Amongst political cartoons and children’s book, Dr. Seuss wrote two adult books. The first, The Seven Lady Godivas: The True Facts Concerning Histories Barest Family, in which was full of nude drawings, told the “true story” of Lady Godiva. The legend was that she rode through the streets of Coventry naked to gain remission on an oppressive taxation. However, this book turned out to be a total flop. The second, You’re Only Old Once is simply a classic ode to aging.

Many people believe Dr. Seuss, or Theodor Geisel, to be simply a children’s author. However, he was much more this: an author of political cartoons, ads, and adult stories. His kooky drawings and delirious rhymes were a recipe for stories that will live on into generations to come and be loved by many.