White House Dream Team: Theodor Seuss Geisel

Drawing of Theodor Seuss Geisel Theodor Seuss Geisel

Born in Springfield Massachusetts, Theodor Seuss Geisel had a passion for writing. His love for books led him to attend Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and Oxford University in England in hopes of becoming an English professor. While attending Oxford, Theodor met and married Helen Palmer, and the two returned to the United States. Instead of becoming an English professor who would teach students about great writers, Theodor began to develop his own writing and drawing abilities. He spent the 1920s and 1930s writing humorous articles and drawing cartoons for magazines, such as Judge, Vanity Fair and Life. He also drew insects for advertisements for a popular bug spray called Flit. Through his work as a cartoonist, Theodor developed his ability to draw zany characters. He shared his humor and love of language with others through his cartoons and writings.

While returning to the United States on a cruise ship from Europe in 1936, Theodor wrote a nonsense poem set to the rhythm of the ship's engine. The story, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, told the tale of a boy whose imagination transformed a simple horse-drawn wagon into a parade of strange creatures and vehicles. Theodor added illustrations to the poem and took the book to more than 25 publishers, who said his work was "too different." Theodor, however, was persistent, and through a college friend working for a publisher, Theodor was able to publish And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. He used the name Dr. Seuss.

Theodor soon wrote, illustrated, and published several more books, such as Thidwick, the Big-Hearted Moose and Horton Hatches the Egg. However, the outbreak of World War II forced him to put aside his writing career for a while. Instead of writing books, Theodor worked for the U.S. Army and made educational films for American soldiers. He won Academy Awards for his work on these films.

After World War II, Life magazine published an article suggesting that children were having trouble learning to read because many children's books were too boring. This article inspired Theodor's publisher to challenge him to write a book using a list of 250 words known to first-graders. Theodor set these simple words to rhyme and created the now-famous The Cat in the Hat. Theodor's ability to combine simple words into amusing patterns made learning to read exciting and fun. Through his books, Theodor shared his love of language with children. The success following The Cat in the Hat allowed Theodor to create a publishing company called Beginner Books. Random House bought the publishing company in 1960 and made Theodor president of the new division. Theodor's work was so popular that a man challenged him to write a story using less than 50 words, and the result was Theodor's popular book, Green Eggs and Ham.

A number of Theodor's stories were made into animated television shows and full-length movies. Perhaps the most famous of these is the holiday special How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Later in his career, Theodor wrote a few stories that contained strong political messages. The most notable being The Lorax, which dealt with environmental preservation. Theodor's mastery of the English language and his ability to make reading fun for children made him one of the most beloved children's authors of the 20th Century.

Brain Challenge:

  1. Name a school Theodor attended.
  2. What was Theodor's job before World War II?
  3. Why was Theodor persistent?
  4. What challenge inspired Theodor to write the Cat in the Hat?
  5. How many different words are in the book, Green Eggs and Ham?
Share your answers with a parent, teacher or other adult.

Want to learn more?
Visit your school or public library to learn more about these fascinating Americans.

March 2, 1904 in Springfield, Massachusetts

September 24, 1991 in La Jolla, California

To write and draw

Dartmouth College 1925, Oxford University through 1927.

Credited as one of the greatest children's writers of the 20th Century.

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