Theodor Geisel: The Real Dr. Seuss

January 07, 2008
by findingDulcinea Staff
While the rhymes of Dr. Seuss may be familiar, the biography of this enigmatic author is not as well known. Who was the elusive man behind The Cat in the Hat? Despite his quick wit and distinctive doodles, Theodor Geisel—the real Dr. Seuss—was a sensitive witness to events of the world and was profoundly affected by the political and environmental changes that took place in the 20th century. 

Early Seuss

To read a short biography of Geisel’s life and career, visit Random House’s Seussville, where you’ll also find a catalog of his books and a link to Suessian events.
Theodor Geisel was born to a family of brewers in Springfield, Massachusetts. During the early years of his life, Theodor struggled to reconcile his natural wit and humor with life’s humdrum responsibilities.

While at Dartmouth College, for example, Geisel lost his post as the editor of the collegiate humor magazine, The Jack-O-Lantern. But that didn’t stop him from writing. After Geisel’s resignation as editor, he adopted his mother’s maiden name—Seuss—as a pseudonym. Eventually, he added “Dr.” to the title to appease his father, who maintained professorial aspirations for his son.

Despite his less-than-perfect track record at Dartmouth, today the college sells garb for kids and adults adorned by some of Seuss’s most famous critters.  
Before achieving recognition as a children’s book author, Theodor Geisel went to work. His career began between the two World Wars at an ad agency in New York City. The University of California at San Diego has an online exhibition of Geisel’s advertising prints. You’ll recognize Dr. Seuss’s humor and design style even in these early cartoons.  

The Road to The Cat in the Hat

Eventually, Geisel was commissioned to write children’s books for Random House. His first great success came with The Cat in the Hat, which revolutionized the way young children learn to read, by making the process fun. The Cat in the Hat turned 50 in 2007, and in honor of its anniversary, Random House created “Project 236.” Named for the 236 words used in The Cat in the Hat, this incentive works to continue Dr. Seuss’s goal of increasing literacy across America.
Dr. Seuss had success with many other works, including How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, and Green Eggs and Ham. Although the author claimed never to write with a moralizing purpose, social messages emerge in many of his tales, especially in some of his later books. For example, The Butter Battle Book and The Lorax both have clear social messages detailing the damaging effects of war, capitalism and pollution.
John Fea at George Mason University explores some of the social messages in Dr. Seuss’s work, in an article on the History News Network.
Dr. Seuss’s influence extends beyond his books. If you’d like to see some larger-than-life renditions of his famous characters, visit the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden at the Springfield Museum. Or, if you’re looking for a Seuss-filled vacation, spend some time at Universal Orlando Resort’s Seuss Landing.   

Most Recent Features