This would be his 107 birthday if he had not died in 1991 at the age of 87. His name was actually Theodor Seuss Geisel. His friends and family called him Ted. Seuss’ name is Bavarian. His mother emigrated from Bavaria int he ninetieth century. Seuss is actually pronounced Zoice.
Geisel started using Dr. when he was in college. The story goes that one day he was in his room having a little party with his friends and drinking a little gin. He and his friends were busted by the dean of the college, Dartmouth. His punishment was that he could no longer write for the college’s humor magazine, called the Jack-O-Lantern. To work around that Geisel started using a pen name. Sometimes he used L. Pasteur, T. Seuss or just “Seuss”. This is the first time he started using his middle name to mark his work.
Then in 1927 he stated signing his work “Dr. Theophrastus Seuss”. And in 1928 it was shortened to the name we are all familiar with Dr. Seuss. American’s pronounced his name as Soose and it stuck.
Dr. Seuss was going did continue his schooling after Dartmouth and went to Oxford after a English master’s, but instead of getting a master’s he got engaged to Helen, whom he would marry in 1927. She convinced him that he wasn’t after higher education, he was an artist and liked to draw. Helen was right and he dropped out of Oxford.
In 1955 he received his first of many honorary doctorates. This one from Dartmouth. Dr. Seuss was not an immediate success, he struggled for a year until he hit his stride when writing an advertisement for Flit a popular insecticide. After the hit with Flit Seuss went on to create advertisements for NBC, General Electric, Ford and others. This went on for the next 30 years, but a cat in a hat would change that.
Seuss wrote an unpublished children’s book in 1931, then in 1937 he wrote Saw It on Mulberry Street and in 1957 he wrote the hugely successful The Cat in the Hat.
In 1957 he told the Dartmouth librarian Edward Connery that:
I would like to say I went into children’s book writing because of my great understanding of children. I went in because it wasn’t excluded by my Standard Oil contract.
It turns out there may have been another reason. His first children’s book was written the year he found out that his wife Helen could not have a baby. When people asked Seuss how he was able to write so well for children, not having any of his own he replied:
You make ’em. I’ll amuse ’em.
Seuss did want children he is quoted tell his niece Peggy, “it was not that we didn’t want to have children. That wasn’t it.” Sadly Helen passed away in 1967. The next year he met and married Audrey Stone who already had two daughters a fifteen year-old and a eleven year-old.
During the period between April 1941 and January 1943, WWI, Seuss took a break from children’s books and published over 400 political cartoons for PM, a liberal New York newspaper.
Many of Seuss’ following books contained political messages like Yertle the Turtle which was inspired by the rise of Hitler or Horton Hears a Who! about anti-prejudice particularly prejudice against the Japanese who were being bombed out of existence, just like the Who’s.
Seuss wrote and illustrated 44 books. When asked where he got his ideas for all these wonderful books Seuss replied:
This is the most asked question of any successful author. Most authors will not disclose their source for fear that other, less successful authors will chisel in on their territory. However, I am willing to take that chance. I get all my ideas in Switzerland, near the Forka Pass. There is a little town called Gletch, and two thousand feet up above Gletch there is a smaller hamlet called Uber Gletch. I go there on the fourth of August every summer to get my cuckoo clock repaired. While the cuckoo is in the hospital, I wander around and talk to the people in the streets. They are very strange people, and I get my ideas from them.
Seuss would later state the he based two characters after himself, the Cat in the Hat and the Grinch. His license plate said GRINCH.
Following several years of poor health the man the world new as Dr. Seuss succumbed to throat cancer on September 24, 1991 in San Diego, CA.
A great biography about Dr. Seuss:
Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel: A Biography