Ever wonder how Theodor Seuss Geisel became the eminent “Dr. Seuss?” I know I did. I’ve always been a fan of Seuss’ works but I never understood why he published under a pseudonym.
At 18 Theodor Geisel left Massachusetts to attend Dartmouth College where he worked as editor in chief of the Jack-O-Lantern, the school’s humour magazine. As most students do, Geisel and his friends gathered for a night of social drinking. The catch? No, they were not slammed for underage drinking or public indecency. In fact, they were drinking in violation of New Hampshire’s prohibition law. While prohibition laws in the north-eastern state were erratic, the passing of the 18th amendment in 1920 witnessed the return of prohibition. Cracking down was no joke and thus Geisel and his pals were kicked off the magazine staff. But losing his position as editor in chief at the Jack-O-Lantern didn’t stop Geisel from submitting his work. Instead, he began to submit under the pseudonym “Seuss.”
After graduating from Dartmouth College, Seuss went on to study at the University of Oxford where he met his future wife, Helen Palmer. In 1927, they married and Seuss dropped out of school. Soon thereafter the newlyweds moved back to the United States.
Upon hearing “Dr. Seuss,” one might conjure images of green eggs and ham, truffula trees or the Grinch’s serpentine smile. This is because Dr. Seuss is a contemporary icon. Even after his death in 1991, people continue to revel in Seussical worlds. The Lorax, Horton Hears a Who and The Cat in the Hat are examples of films produced in the 21st century. The Lorax shocked box offices with a record-shattering debut of 70.7 million dollars.
But the beloved forest creature wasn’t born over night. After returning to the U.S. Seuss began working as a cartoonist, publishing with the likes of LIFE and Vanity Fair. Now get this, if all the writerly advice to “not give up” on publishing hasn’t got you convinced, Seuss’ first book And to Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street was rejected 27 times. Finally, in 1937, Vanguard Press introduced us to a man that changed the literary world.
What makes Dr. Seuss so special? He offers dichotomous worlds that appeal to children and adults alike. Seussical worlds are as magical as they are real, political statements masked by the sounds of Boom Bands and Hakken-Krak Howls. But his cartooning career saw more than Thing 1 and Thing 2. It is no wonder that his works are so politically or philosophically engaging. During the Second World War, Dr. Seuss contributed political cartoons to PM Magazine, a liberal NYC paper. In 1942 he was too old for the draft but, like any citizen living in the throes of war, Seuss contributed to the effort. He served under Frank Capra, the director of It’s a Wonderful Life. His duties? He composed propaganda posters for the Treasury Department and the War Production Board in addition to making animated training films.
(I suggest browsing his other cartoons)
In 1954, LIFE Magazine published an article that criticized the average child’s reading capabilities. The article was a stepping stone for Seuss who was commissioned to write an elementary textbook using 220 vocabulary words. Meet The Cat in the Hat! The ensuing publication secured Dr. Seuss’ position as one of America’s leading children’s authors and illustrators.
Although he has passed, Dr. Seuss continues to cast spells over us all. I am now 22 and yes I find myself in bed reading Oh, the Places You’ll Go! whenever I feel down. Every Christmas I watch the Grinch and I dream about someday introducing my future children to yawning Van Vleck or Yertle the Turtle.
So Congratulations, Dr. Seuss. You went Great Places! You went off and away! Did you succeed? Yes! You did, indeed! In this case I claim with 100% guarantee. YOU MOVED MOUNTAINS.