Theodore Seuss Geisel: The Man Behind the Cat in the Hat

Theodore Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was born on March 2, 1904, in Springfield, Massachusetts. When he was younger, he realized he had a talent for drawing and writing rhyming sentences. In 1925, he received his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth. He went on to graduate school at various universities, including Oxford, where he studied literature. However, he did not complete his doctorate before he dropped out of school, having decided to become a full-time cartoonist instead.

At first, he worked for magazines such as Life and Vanity Fair, doing his illustrations. He then worked for fifteen years for Standard Oil in their advertising department. His cartoon style soon became well-known and an ad he drew for the insect repellent Flit was nationally recognized.  During this time, he wrote a book called Boners for Viking Press. While the book did not sell well, it launched Dr. Seuss into his career in writing children’s books. 

Dr. Seuss’ first book, And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, was rejected 27 times before it was published in 1937. The story is about a boy with an active imagination, and his walk home from school becomes filled with unique things such as “a sleigh and an elephant.” However, his father does not like this wild imagination and tries unsuccessfully to thwart his son’s creativity. 

After successfully publishing And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, Dr. Seuss published Horton Hears a Who in 1954. In this story, Horton hears the people from Whoville, whose entire town fits on a tiny flower, asking for help.  Horton is the only one who hears them and Dr. Seuss explored the ideas of diversity and equality, penning one of the most famous Seussical lines, “a person’s a person no matter how small.” This line has been an unofficial motto for the pro-life movement to highlight the validity of the lives of unborn babies. Seuss did not like this and even tried to sue pro-life people who used his quote because that wasn’t his intention when writing the book and he disagreed with their platform as he was a liberal. 

The same year that Horton Hears a Who was published, Life magazine challenged him to write a book that small children would enjoy using only about 200 words. Three years later, The Cat in the Hat was published with 236 words. The book was a hit, and Dr. Seuss became a household name. The story is about Sally and her brother (Connor in the Mike Myers movie adaptation), stuck inside on a rainy day. The Cat in the Hat shows up with different games to play with the children, such as the balancing game. Their fish tries to warn the kids, “he should not be here when your mother is out.” The cat creates a huge mess and appears to leave, but then he introduces Thing One and Thing Two, who try to help clean up but end up making it worse. Thankfully, the cat returns with a machine and has everything cleaned up before their mother returns. 

Dr. Seuss continued to become more popular with each publication, and, in 1957, How the Grinch Stole Christmas added to his fame. It became so popular that the following decade in 1966, the animated special of the Grinch came out on TV featuring the voice of Boris Karloff as the Grinch. It became a beloved Christmas favorite. In 2000, a live-action version starring Jim Carey was released and another cartoon version was released in 2018. In this story, the Grinch, an outcast from Whoville, hates Christmas and decides to take it away from everyone. He breaks into the homes and takes out everything, but then in the morning, when he expects to hear crying and sadness, he hears singing and rejoicing. The Grinch then understands the meaning of Christmas, and his heart grows three sizes. 

The same year as the Grinch, Geisel co-founded Beginner Books with Phyllis Fraser, and Helen Palmer (Dr. Seuss’ wife). Beginner Books is a sub-division of Random House Books geared for young children just beginning to read. The first book he published through this was The Cat in the Hat Comes Back in 1958. 

Dr. Seuss continued to publish books rapidly, and with such success that his editor felt like he needed a challenge. Two years after the Grinch was published, Seuss’ editor bet Dr. Seuss he couldn’t make a children’s book using only fifty words. Geisel won the bet with his well-known book Green Eggs and Ham, published in 1960. During his thirty-seven year career, Dr. Seuss wrote over sixty books. His last book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, was published a year before he died from cancer on September 24, 1991. While the man Theodore Geisel may be gone, the legendary author Dr. Seuss continues to live on through his books and continues to make children happy and eager to read.