Biography of Dr. Seuss, Popular Children's Author

Theodor Seuss Geisel, "Dr. Seuss," in 1957

Gene Lester/Contributor/Getty Images

Theodor Seuss Geisel (March 2, 1904–Sept. 24, 1991), who used the pseudonym "Dr. Seuss," wrote and illustrated 45 children’s books filled with memorable characters, earnest messages, and even limericks. Many of Dr. Seuss’s books have become classics, such as "The Cat in the Hat," "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!," "Horton Hears a Who," and "Green Eggs and Ham."

Geisel was a shy married man who never had children of his own, but he found a way as the author "Dr. Seuss" to spark children's imaginations around the world. With the use of silly words that set an original theme, tone, and mood for his stories, as well as curlicue drawings of rascally animals, Geisel created books that became beloved favorites of children and adults alike.

Wildly popular, Dr. Seuss’s books have been translated into over 20 languages and several have been made into television cartoons and major motion pictures.

Fast Facts: Dr. Seuss

  • Known For: Popular children's book author
  • Also Known As: Theodor Seuss Geisel, Ted Geisel
  • Born: March 2, 1904 in Springfield, Massachusetts
  • Parents: Theodor Robert Geisel, Henrietta Seuss Geisel
  • Died: Sep. 24, 1991 in La Jolla, California
  • Published Works: The Cat in the Hat, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, Horton Hears a Who, Green Eggs and Ham
  • Awards and Honors: Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature ("Design for Death," 1947), Academy Award for Best Animated Short ("Gerald McBoing-Boing," 1950), Special Pulitzer Prize (for "contribution over nearly half a century to the education and enjoyment of America's children and their parents," 1984), the Dartmouth Medical School was renamed the Audrey and Theodor Geisel School of Medicine (2012), Dr. Seuss has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
  • Spouse(s): Helen Palmer Geisel (m. 1927–Oct. 23, 1967), Audrey Stone Dimond (m. June 21, 1968–Sept. 21, 1991)
  • Notable Quote: "You have 'em; I'll entertain 'em." (Geisel, who had no children of his own, said this referring to children.)

Early Years

Geisel was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. His father, Theodor Robert Geisel, helped manage his father’s brewery, and in 1909 was appointed to the Springfield Park Board.

Geisel tagged along with his father for behind-the-scenes peeks at the Springfield Zoo, bringing along his sketchpad and pencil for exaggerated doodling of animals. Geisel met his father’s trolley at the end of each day and he was handed the comic page full of eccentric humor from the Boston American.

Although his father influenced Geisel’s love of drawing, Geisel credited his mother, Henrietta Seuss Geisel, for the most influence on his writing technique. Henrietta would read to her two children with rhythm and urgency, the way she had sold pies in her father’s bakery. Thus, Geisel developed an ear for meter and loved to make up nonsense rhymes from early in his life.

While his childhood seemed idyllic, all was not easy. During World War I (1914–1919), Geisel’s peers ridiculed him for being of German ancestry. To prove his American patriotism, Geisel became one of the top U.S. Liberty Bond sellers with the Boy Scouts.

It was to be a great honor when former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt came to Springfield to award medals to the top bond sellers, but there was a mistake: Roosevelt had only nine medals in hand. Geisel, who was child No. 10, was swiftly escorted off-stage without receiving a medal. Traumatized by this incident, Geisel had a fear of public speaking for the rest of his life.

In 1919, Prohibition began, forcing the closure of the family's brewery business and creating an economic setback for Geisel's family.

Dartmouth College and a Pseudonym

Geisel’s favorite English teacher urged him to apply to Dartmouth College, and in 1921 Geisel was accepted. Admired for his silliness, Geisel drew cartoons for the college humor magazine Jack-O-Lantern.

Spending more time on his cartoons than he should, his grades began to falter. After Geisel’s father informed his son how unhappy his grades made him, Geisel worked harder and became Jack-O-Lantern’s editor-in-chief his senior year.

However, Geisel's position at the paper ended abruptly when he was caught drinking alcohol (it was still Prohibition and buying alcohol was illegal). Unable to submit to the magazine as punishment, Geisel came up with a loophole, writing and drawing under a pseudonym: "Seuss."

After graduating from Dartmouth in 1925 with a B.A. in Liberal Arts, Geisel told his father that he had applied for a fellowship to study English literature at Lincoln College in Oxford, England.

Extremely excited, Geisel's father had the story run in the Springfield Union newspaper that his son was going off to the oldest English-speaking university in the world. When Geisel didn’t get the fellowship, his father decided to pay the tuition himself to avoid embarrassment.

Geisel didn't do well at Oxford. Not feeling as intelligent as the other Oxford students, Geisel doodled more than he took notes. Helen Palmer, a classmate, told Geisel that instead of becoming a professor of English literature, he was meant to draw.

After one year of school, Geisel left Oxford and traveled Europe for eight months, doodling curious animals and wondering what kind of a job he could get as a doodler of zany beasts.

Advertising Career

Upon returning to the United States, Geisel was able to freelance a few cartoons in the Saturday Evening Post. He signed his work “Dr. Theophrastus Seuss” and then later shortened it to “Dr. Seuss.”

At the age of 23, Geisel got a job as a cartoonist for Judge magazine in New York at $75 per week and was able to marry his Oxford sweetheart, Helen Palmer.

Geisel’s work included drawing cartoons and advertisements with his unusual, zany creatures. Luckily, when Judge magazine went out of business, Flit Household Spray, a popular insecticide, hired Geisel to continue drawing their advertisements for $12,000 a year.

Geisel's ads for Flit appeared in newspapers and on billboards, making Flit a household name with Geisel’s catchy phrase: "Quick, Henry, the Flit!"

Geisel also continued to sell cartoons and humorous articles to magazines such as Life and Vanity Fair.

Children’s Author

Geisel and Helen loved to travel. While on a ship to Europe in 1936, Geisel made up a limerick to match the grinding of the ship’s engine rhythm as it struggled against rough seas.

Six months later, after perfecting the related story and adding drawings about a boy’s untruthful walk home from school, Geisel shopped his children's book to publishers. During the winter of 1936–1937, 27 publishers rejected the story, saying they only wanted stories with morals.

On his way home from the 27th rejection, Geisel was ready to burn his manuscript when he ran into Mike McClintock, an old Dartmouth College buddy who was now an editor of children’s books at Vanguard Press. Mike liked the story and decided to publish it.

The book, renamed from "A Story That No One Can Beat to And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street," was Geisel's first published children's book and was praised with good reviews for being original, entertaining, and different.

While Geisel went on to write more books of exuberant Seuss lore for Random House (which lured him away from Vanguard Press), Geisel said that drawing always came easier than writing.

WWII Cartoons

After publishing a large number of political cartoons to PM magazine, Geisel joined the U.S. Army in 1942. The Army placed him in the Information and Education Division, working with Academy Award-winning director Frank Capra at a leased Fox studio in Hollywood known as Fort Fox.

While working with Capra, Captain Geisel wrote several training films for the military, which earned Geisel the Legion of Merit.

After World War II, two of Geisel's military propaganda films were turned into commercial films and won Academy Awards. "Hitler Lives?" (originally "Your Job in Germany") won an Academy Award for Short Documentary and "Design for Death" (originally "Our Job in Japan") won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

During this time, Helen found success by writing children’s books for Disney and Golden Books, including "Donald Duck Sees South America," "Bobby and His Airplane," "Tommy’s Wonderful Rides," and "Johnny’s Machines." After the war, the Geisels remained in La Jolla, California, to write children’s books.

'The Cat in the Hat' and More Popular Books

With World War II over, Geisel returned to children's stories and in 1950 wrote an animated cartoon titled "Gerald McBoing-Boing" about a child who makes noises instead of words. The cartoon won an Academy Award for Cartoon Short Film.

In 1954, Geisel was presented with a new challenge. When journalist John Hersey published an article in Life magazine stating that children’s first readers were boring and suggested that someone like Dr. Seuss should write them, Geisel accepted the challenge.

After looking at the list of words he had to use, Geisel found it difficult to be imaginative with such words as "cat" and "hat." At first thinking he could pound the 225-word manuscript out in three weeks, it took Geisel more than a year to write his version of a child's first reading primer. It was worth the wait.

The now immensely famous book "The Cat in the Hat" (1957) changed the way children read and was one of Geisel’s biggest triumphs. No longer boring, children could learn to read while also having fun, sharing the journey of two siblings who get stuck inside on a cold day with a troublemaker of a cat.

"The Cat in the Hat" was followed that same year by another big success, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!," which stemmed from Geisel's own aversion toward holiday materialism. These two Dr. Seuss books made Random House the leader of children’s books and Dr. Seuss a celebrity.

Awards, Heartache, and Controversy

Dr. Seuss was awarded seven honorary doctorates (which he often joked made him Dr. Dr. Seuss) and the 1984 Pulitzer Prize. Three of his books—"McElligot’s Pool" (1948), "Bartholomew and the Oobleck" (1950), and "If I Ran the Zoo" (1951)—won Caldecott Honor Medals.

All the awards and successes, however, couldn't help cure Helen, who had been suffering for a decade from a number of serious medical issues including polio and Guillain-Barre syndrome. No longer able to stand the pain, she committed suicide in 1967. The following year, Geisel married Audrey Stone Diamond.

Although many of Geisel's books helped children learn to read, some of his stories were met with controversy due to political themes such as "The Lorax" (1971), which depicts Geisel’s repulsion of pollution, and "The Butter Battle Book" (1984), which depicts his disgust with the nuclear arms race. However, the latter book was on The New York Times bestseller list for six months, the only children’s book to achieve that status at the time.

Death and Legacy

Geisel's final book, "Oh, the Places You’ll Go" (1990), was on The New York Times bestseller list for more than two years and remains a very popular book to give as a gift at graduations.

Just a year after his last book was published, Geisel died in 1991 at the age of 87 after suffering from throat cancer.

The fascination with Geisel's characters and silly words continues. While many of Dr. Seuss's books have become children's classics, Dr. Seuss's characters now also appear in movies, on merchandise, and even as part of a theme park (Seuss Landing at Universal's Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida).


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Schwartz, Shelly. "Biography of Dr. Seuss, Popular Children's Author." ThoughtCo, Sep. 1, 2021, Schwartz, Shelly. (2021, September 1). Biography of Dr. Seuss, Popular Children's Author. Retrieved from Schwartz, Shelly. "Biography of Dr. Seuss, Popular Children's Author." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 23, 2023).