Dr. Seuss

(from Wikipedia - the free encyclopedia)

 Theodor Seuss Geisel (March 2, 1904 September 24, 1991), better known by his pen name, Dr. Seuss, was a famous American writer and cartoonist best known for his children's books, particularly The Cat in the Hat. He also wrote under the pen names Theo. LeSieg and Rosetta Stone.

Life and Work

Geisel was born on March 2, 1904 in Springfield, Massachusetts. He grew up at 74 Fairfield Street, an ideal location for a youngster, as it was only six blocks from the zoo where his father worked. Furthermore, 74 Fairfield was but three blocks from the library. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1925, where he was a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon, the Casque & Gauntlet Society, and wrote for the Dartmouth Jack O'Lantern humor magazine under his own name and the pen name "Seuss." He entered Lincoln College, Oxford, intending to earn a doctorate in literature. At Oxford he met Helen Palmer, married her in 1927, and returned to the United States without earning his doctorate.

He began submitting humorous articles and illustrations to Judge (a humor magazine), The Saturday Evening Post, Life, Vanity Fair, and Liberty. One notable "Technocracy Number" made fun of Technocracy, Inc. and featured satirical rhymes at the expense of Frederick Soddy. He became nationally famous from his advertisements for Flit, a common insecticide at the time. His slogan, "Quick, Henry, the Flit!" became a popular catchphrase. Geisel supported himself and his wife through the Great Depression by drawing advertising for General Electric, NBC, Standard Oil, and many other companies. He also wrote and drew a short lived comic strip called Hejji in 1935.

Even at this early stage, Geisel had started using the pen name "Dr. Seuss". His first work signed as "Dr. Seuss" appeared six months into his work for Judge. Seuss was his mother's maiden name; as an immigrant from Germany, she would have pronounced it more or less as "zoice" (as it is pronounced in German), but today it is universally pronounced in English with an initial s sound and rhyming with "juice".[1] The "Dr." is an acknowledgement of his father's unfulfilled hopes that Seuss would earn a doctorate at Oxford. Geisel also used the pen name Theo. LeSieg (Geisel spelled backwards) for books he wrote but others illustrated.

In 1936, while Seuss sailed again to Europe, the rhythm of the ship's engines inspired the poem that became his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. Seuss wrote three more children's books before World War II (see list of works below), two of which are, atypically for him, in prose.

As World War II began, Dr. Seuss turned to political cartoons, drawing over 400 in two years as editorial cartoonist for the left-wing New York City daily newspaper, PM. Dr. Seuss's political cartoons opposed the viciousness of Hitler and Mussolini and were highly critical of isolationists, most notably Charles Lindbergh, who opposed American entry into the war. Some cartoons depicted Japanese Americans as traitors. One of these appeared days before the internments started. Some have taken these cartoons to reflect his own negative attitude toward the Japanese people, while others have taken him to be presenting a parody of others' attitudes.

In 1942, Dr. Seuss 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 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, "Design for Death," a study of Japanese culture that won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1947, and the Private Snafu series of very adult army training films. While in the Army, he was awarded the Legion of Merit. Dr. Seuss's non-military films from around this time were also well-received; Gerald McBoing-Boing won the Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Animated) in 1950.

Despite his numerous awards, Dr. Seuss never won the Caldecott Medal nor the Newbery. Three of his titles were chosen as Caldecott runners-up (now referred to as Caldecott Honor books): McElligot's Pool (1947), Bartholomew and the Oobleck (1949), and If I Ran the Zoo (1950).

After the war, Dr. Seuss and his wife moved to La Jolla, California. Returning to children's books, he wrote what many consider to be his finest works, including such favorites as If I Ran the Zoo, (1950), Scrambled Eggs Super! (1953), On Beyond Zebra! (1955), If I Ran the Circus (1956), and How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957).

At the same time, an important development occurred that influenced much of Seuss's later work. 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, Seuss's publisher made up a list of 400 words he felt were important and asked Dr. Seuss to cut the list to 250 words and write a book using only those words. Nine months later, Seuss, using 220 of the words given to him, completed The Cat in the Hat. This book was a tour de force—it retained the drawing style, verse rhythms, and all the imaginative power of Seuss's earlier works, but because of its simplified vocabulary could be read by beginning readers. A rumor exists, that in 1960, Bennett Cerf bet Dr. Seuss $50 that he couldn't write an entire book using only fifty words. The result was supposedly Green Eggs and Ham. The additional rumor that Cerf never paid Seuss the $50 has never been proven and is most likely untrue. These books achieved significant international success and remain very popular.

Dr. Seuss 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 Seuss, and reportedly he labored for months crafting them.

At various times Seuss also wrote books for adults that used the same style of verse and pictures: The Seven Lady Godivas, Oh, The Places You'll Go!, and his final book You're Only Old Once, a satire of hospitals and the geriatric lifestyle.

During a very difficult illness, Helen Palmer Geisel committed suicide on October 23, 1967. Seuss married Audrey Stone Diamond on June 21, 1968. Seuss himself died, following several years of illness, in La Jolla, California on September 24, 1991.

In 2002 the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden opened in his birthplace of Springfield, Massachusetts; it features sculptures of Dr. Seuss and of many of his characters.

Poetic Meters

Dr. Seuss wrote most of his books in a verse form that in the terminology of metrics would be characterized as anapestic tetrameter, a meter employed also by Lord Byron and other poets of the English literary canon. (It is also the meter of the famous Christmas poem A Visit From St. Nicholas.) Abstractly, anapestic tetrameter consists of four rhythmic units (anapests), each composed of two weak beats followed by one strong, schematized below:
x x X x x X x x X x x X

Often, the first weak syllable is omitted, or an additional weak syllable is added at the end. A typical line (the first line of If I Ran the Circus) is:

In ALL the whole TOWN the most WONderful SPOT

Seuss generally maintained this meter quite strictly, up to late in his career, when he was no longer able to maintain strict rhythm in all lines. The consistency of his meter was one of his hallmarks; the many imitators and parodists of Seuss are often unable to write in strict anapestic tetrameter, or are unaware that they should, and thus sound clumsy in comparison with the original.

Seuss also wrote verse in trochaic tetrameter, an arrangement of four units each with a strong followed by a weak beat:

X x X x X x X x

An example is the title (and first line) of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. The formula for trochaic meter permits the final weak position in the line to be omitted, which facilitates the construction of rhymes.

Seuss generally maintained trochaic meter only for brief passages, and for longer stretches typically mixed it with iambic tetrameter:

x X x X x X x X

which is easier to write. Thus, for example, the magicians in Bartholemew and the Oobleck make their first appearance chanting in trochees (thus resembling the witches of Shakespeare's Macbeth):

Shuffle, duffle, muzzle, muff

then switch to iambs for the oobleck spell:

Go make the oobleck tumble down
On every street, in every town!

In Green Eggs and Ham, Sam-I-Am generally speaks in trochees, and the exasperated character he proselytizes replies in iambs.

While most of Seuss's books are either uniformly anapestic or iambic-trochaic, a few mix triple and double rhythms. Thus, for instance, Happy Birthday to You is generally written in anapestic tetrameter, but breaks into iambo-trochaic meter for the "Dr. Derring's singing herrings" and "Who-Bubs" episodes.


Seuss'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, not necessarily to better effect.

Seuss's figures are often somewhat rounded and 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 Seuss drew: although these objects abound in straight lines in real life, Seuss carefully avoided straight lines in drawing them. For buildings, this could be accomplished in part through choice of architecture. For machines, Seuss simply distorted reality; for example, If I Ran the Circus includes a droopy hoisting crane and a droopy steam calliope.

Seuss evidently enjoyed drawing architecturally elaborate objects. His endlessly varied (but never rectilinear) palaces, ramps, platforms, and free-standing stairways are among his most evocative creations. Seuss also drew elaborate imaginary machines, of which the Audio-Telly-O-Tally-O-Count, from Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book, is one example. Seuss also liked drawing outlandish arrangements of feathers or fur, for example, the 500th hat of Bartholemew Cubbins, the tail of Gertrude McFuzz, and the pet for girls who like to brush and comb, in One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

Seuss's images often convey motion vividly. He was fond of a sort of "voilà" gesture, in which the hand flips outward, spreading the fingers slightly backward with the thumb up; this is done by Ish, for instance, in One Fish, Two Fish when he creates fish (who perform the gesture themselves with their fins), in the introduction of the various acts of If I Ran the Circus, and in the introduction of the Little Cats in The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. Seuss also follows the cartoon tradition of showing motion with lines, for instance in the sweeping lines that accompany Sneelock's final dive in If I Ran the Circus. Cartoonist's lines are also used to illustrate the action of the senses (sight, smell, and hearing) in The Big Brag and even of thought, as in the moment when the Grinch conceives his awful idea.

Recurring Images

Seuss's early work in advertising and editorial cartooning produced sketches that received more perfect realization later on in the children's books. Often, the expressive use to which Seuss put an image later on was quite different from the original. The examples below are from the website of the Mandeville Special Collections Library of the University of California, San Diego.
  • Seuss's earliest elephants were for advertising and had somewhat wrinkly ears, much as real elephants do. With And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street (1937) and Horton Hatches the Egg (1940), the ears became more stylized, somewhat like angel wings and thus appropriate to the saintly Horton. During World War II, the elephant image appeared as an emblem for India in four editorial cartoons. Horton and similar elephants appear frequently in the postwar children's books.
  • While drawing advertisements for Flit, Seuss became adept at drawing insects with huge stingers, shaped like a gentle S-curve and with a sharp end that included a rearward-pointing barb on its lower side. Their facial expressions depict gleeful malevolence. These insects were later rendered in an editorial cartoon as a swarm of Allied aircraft (1942), and later still as the Sneedle of On Beyond Zebra.
  • In an advertisement for NBC, a kangaroo with a baby kangaroo in its pouch is depicted talking to a man. In Horton Hears a Who, an identical kangaroo is found on the last two pages.


From his work, it would appear that Dr. Seuss's political views were what 20th century Americans would call liberal. His early political cartoons show a passionate opposition to fascism, and he urged Americans to oppose it, both before and after the entry of the United States into World War II. Seuss' cartoons also called attention to the early stages of the Holocaust and denounced discrimination in America against black people and Jews. Seuss suffered from anti-semitic discrimination against himself, as he was refused entry into certain circles in his college days because of the misperception that he was Jewish. Seuss' seemingly racist treatment of the Japanese and of Japanese Americans[2], mentioned above, has struck many readers as a strange moral blind spot in a generally idealistic man, assuming that he intended the cartoons to depict what he believed about Japanese people rather than as a parody of the common American view of them.

Seuss moved to La Jolla, California in 1948, following his years living and working in Hollywood. A widely told story says that when he first went to register to vote in La Jolla, some Republican friends called him over to where they were registering voters, but Ted said, "You my friends are over there, but I am going over here [to the Democratic registration]." Geisel had since been a lifelong Democrat.

Seuss' children's books also express his commitment to social justice as he perceived it:

  • The Lorax (1971), though told in full-tilt Seussian style, strikes many readers as fundamentally an environmentalist tract. It is the tale of a ruthless and greedy industrialist (the "Once-ler") who so thoroughly destroys the local environment that he ultimately puts his own company out of business. The book is striking for being told from the viewpoint (generally bitter, self-hating, and remorseful) of the Once-ler himself. In 1989, an effort was made by lumbering interests in Laytonville, California to have the book banned from local school libraries, on the grounds that it was unfair to the lumber industry.
  • The Sneetches (1961) is commonly seen as a satirization of racial discrimination.
  • The Zax can be seen as a parody of all political hardliners.
  • Yertle the Turtle (1958) is often interpreted as an allegory of tyranny. It can also be applied to political activism, making the statement that even one single act of resistance by a single individual can topple a corrupt system.
  • Seuss's personal values also are apparent in the much earlier How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957), which can be taken (partly) as a polemic against materialism. The Grinch thinks he can steal Christmas from the Whos by stealing all the Christmas gifts and decorations, and attains a kind of enlightenment when the Whos prove him wrong.
  • Horton Hears a Who! is said to be a response to the atomic bomb. While the line from the book "A person is a person, no matter how small" has been used as rhetoric against abortion rights, Seuss himself had threatened to sue an anti-abortion group for their use of the phrase, and has attracted sharp criticism from his widow, herself strongly pro-choice. A lawsuit was filed in Canada in 2001 on this issue.

Adaptations of Seuss's Work

For most of his career, Dr. Seuss was reluctant to have his characters marketed in contexts outside of his own books. However, he did allow a few animated cartoons, an art form in which he himself had gained experience during the Second World War.

In 1966, Seuss authorized the eminent cartoon artist Chuck Jones, his friend and former colleague from the war, to make a cartoon version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas!. Seuss, as "Ted Geisel", is credited as a co-producer along with Jones. This cartoon was very faithful to the original book. It is considered a classic by many to this day, and is in the large catalog of annual Christmas television specials. Several more animated specials based on Seuss' work followed, including cartoon versions of The Lorax and The Cat in the Hat in 1971, but the latter was considered less successful.

Toward the end of his life, Seuss seems to have relaxed his policy, and several other cartoons and toys were made featuring his characters, usually the Cat in the Hat and the Grinch. When Seuss died of cancer at the age of 87 in 1991, his widow Audrey Geisel was placed in charge of all licensing matters. Since then, Audrey Geisel has become a controversial figure among some of Seuss's fans, seen as being far more liberal in permitting commercialization of her husband's characters and stories.[citation needed] She approved a live-action film version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas starring Jim Carrey, as well as a Seuss-themed Broadway musical called Seussical (both released in 2000). A live-action film based on The Cat in the Hat was released in 2003, featuring Mike Myers as the title character. Audrey Geisel was said to have been very vocal in her dislike of the film, and is believed to have said there would be no further live-action adaptations of Seuss' books.

Dr. Seuss' books and characters also now appear in an amusement park: the Seuss Landing 'island' at the Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, Florida. Product tie-ins (cereal boxes, and so on) have also been implemented.

In November 2004, an edition of MAD Magazine (Mad #447) featured a cover story in which lines from Seuss' books were compared with supposedly similar lines from speeches made by George W. Bush. It was titled "The Strange Similarities Between the Bush Administration and the World of Dr. Seuss." The cover drawing was of a Cat in the Hat that resembled Bush.


  • On the season premiere of Saturday Night Live following Dr. Seuss' death, the Reverend Jesse Jackson was a special guest during the News segment. He declared that "rather than reading from First or Second Samuel, I will read from 'Sam I Am' by the Prophet Seuss," whereupon he read Green Eggs and Ham in the style of a preacher giving an impassioned sermon.
  • On December 1, 1995 The University Library Building at the University of California, San Diego was renamed Geisel Library in honor of Audrey and Theodor Geisel for the generous contributions they have made to the library and their devotion to improving literacy. The Geisels were long-time residents of La Jolla, where UC San Diego is located.
  • Dr Seuss was frequently confused, by the US Postal Service among others, with Dr Suess (cf Hans Suess) his contemporary living in the same locality, La Jolla. Ironically, both names have been posthumously linked together: The personal papers of Hans Suess are housed in the Geisel Library at UCSD [1].
  • Dr. Seuss was a friend and drinking partner of crime author Raymond Chandler, who was also a resident of La Jolla.

Return to the Dr. Seuss Art page.
To view the
Dr. Seuss Complete Collection of Available Work.  (Note: this will open a new window. Once you are ready to order, you may close that window and return to this page).

To place an order, call our toll free number 1-800-336-9924 or use our Secure Order Form

For more biographical information on Dr. Seuss visit the complete Wikipedia listing at:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dr._Seuss
Additional biographical information is available online at: http://www.infoplease.com/spot/seuss1.html

Jean Stephen Galleries
For more information call our Toll Free Number:
1-800-336-9924. Fax: (612) 337-8435.
International calls: (612) 338-4333.
Contact us by e-mail.