Hanover, New Hampshire : Dartmouth College
Copyright Trustees of Dartmouth College
Dartmouth Digital Collections
PUBLISHED IN COMMEMORATION
OF THE ONE-HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY
OF HIS BIRTH • MARCH 2, 19O4-2OO4
Edited by Edward Connery Lathem
together with an introduction
by President James Wright
HANOVER • NEW HAMPSHIRE
This publication has been sponsored by
the WILLIAM L.BRYANT
established by William J. Bryant
Dartmouth Class of 1925
The text of the reminiscence is that
originally published in the April 1976
number of the
Dartmouth Alumni Magazine.
U. S. Postal Service commemorative
Theodor Seuss Geisel stamp issued
March 2, 2004 at La Jolla, California
"Dr. Seuss" signature reproduced
courtesy of Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P.
IT IS WITH particular delight that I welcome readers
to The Beginnings of Dr. Seuss. At Dartmouth we
take special pride in this extraordinary genius who
graduated from the College in 1925. Theodor Seuss
Geisel — Dr. Seuss — brought joy to millions.
Ted Geisel came to Dartmouth uncertain as to
his path in life. Happily, however, he discovered and
began developing here a rare talent to engage and
entertain, to enlighten and instruct — a talent that
would in subsequent years serve to enchant a broad
range of readers through his wonderful drawings and
It was at Dartmouth, as he reveals in the pages
that follow, that he "discovered the excitement of
`marrying’ words to pictures." He said:
"I began to get it through my skull that words
and pictures were Yin and Yang. I began thinking that
words and pictures, married, might possibly produce
a progeny more interesting than either parent."
And, with typical modesty, he went on to say:
“It took me almost a quarter of a century to find the
In recognition of his great accomplishments
and in testimony to our pride in "the distinction of a
loyal son," the College awarded Mr. Geisel an honorary
degree in June 1955. In 2000, I had the personal,
as well as official, pleasure of bestowing an honorary
doctorate upon Audrey Stone Geisel. In the citation,
I said to her:
"Mr. Geisel himself made abundantly clear your
important role in encouraging and enhancing his creativity.
You sustained him in the most profoundly
productive interval of his long career."
I went on to speak of her exercise of "effective
stewardship over the Seuss legacy” and of the munificence
of her actions in support of education, literacy
programs, and health care. And the citation ended:
"Now, on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the
graduation of your late husband's class, his College
believes —a conviction we are confident both Dr.
Seuss and Dr. Theodor Geisel would enthusiastically
share —that you, madam, their partner, also eminently
deserve to bear, with them, the distinction of
doctoral tide, as well as membership in the Dartmouth
This volume contains Theodor Geisel’s own
reflections on his early career —from high school
through the publication in 1937 of And to Think That
I Saw It on Mulberry Street, his first of what were to be
many immensely successful books. The text is drawn
from tape recordings made in 1975, just in advance of
the fiftieth reunion of the Class of 1925, which occa-
sion featured a major Geisel/Seuss exhibition that
was mounted in Baker Library.
The volume is now issued in tribute to Theodor
Seuss Geisel as part of Dartmouth's celebration of his
centennial — at the close of the year that has marked
the one hundredth anniversary of his birth. Its exis-
tence owes much to the vision and editorial skills
of Edward Lathem, Bezaleel Woodward Fellow and
Counselor to the President, Dean of Libraries and
Librarian of the College, Emeritus. He has brought
many volumes to publication during a distinguished
career — but few perhaps so satisfying to him as this
one, because of his long friendship with Mr. Geisel.
is of course a pseudonym, one known
to millions upon millions of adults and children alike,
in the United States and throughout the world.
It derives from the middle name of author-artist
Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dartmouth 1925), and any telling
of the story of "Dr. Seuss" must involve a tracing,
also, of the career of Theodor Geisel himself.
Both born and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts,
he attended Springfield's Central High School,
where among his special extracurricular concerns was
the student newspaper, the Central Recorder, for which
he did articles, verse, humorous squibs, and occasional
cartoons, as well as serving as one of the paper's editors.
At the conclusion of his high school years he,
along with a large number of others from Central
High, entered Dartmouth, apparently because of the
influence of Edwin A. Smith, a 1917 graduate of the
"The reason so many kids went to Dartmouth at
that particular time from the Springfield high school
was probably Red Smith, a young English teacher
who, rather than being just an English teacher, was
one of the gang — a real stimulating guy who proba-
bly was responsible for my starting to write.
"I think many kids were excited by this fellow.
(His family ran a candy factory in White River Junc-
tion, Vermont. I remember that.) And I think when
time came to go to college we all said, 'Let's go where
Red Smith went.'"
Accordingly, in the autumn of 1921, Geisel headed
for Hanover, some hundred and thirty miles up the
Connecticut River from Springfield.
And what was to prove, as viewed in retrospect,
especially a stimulus to him at Dartmouth?—
"Well, my big inspiration for writing there was
Ben Pressey [W. Benfield Pressey of the Department
of English]. He was important to me in college as
Smith was in high school.
"He seemed to like the stuff I wrote. He was very
informal, and he had little seminars at his house (plus a
very beautiful wife, who served us cocoa). In between
sips of cocoa, we students read our trash aloud.
"He's the only person I took any creative writing
courses from ever, anywhere, and he was very kind
"I remember being in a big argument at one of
Ben's seminars. I maintained that subject matter wasn't
as important as method. (I don't believe that at all now.)
"To prove my point, I did a book review of the
Boston & Maine Railroad timetable. As I remember,
nobody in the class thought it was funny — except
Ben and me."
From the outset at Dartmouth, Freshman Geisel
gravitated toward association with the humor magazine,
"That was an extension of my activities in high
school — and a lot less dangerous than doing somersaults
off the ski jump. I think I had something in
Jack-o-Lantern within a couple of months after I got
Jack-o-Lantern proved increasingly an object of
Geisel’s attentions throughout his four years in
Hanover, and at the end of his junior year he became
"Another guy who was a great encouragement
was Norman Maclean. He was the editor preceding
me. He found that I was a workhorse, so we used to
write practically the whole thing ourselves every
"Norman, at the same time, was writing a
novel. And the further he got involved with his
novel, the less time he had for his Jack-o-Lantern. So,
"One night Norman finished the novel and
went out to celebrate. While he was out celebrating,
his boarding house burned down and his novel
burned up. Unlike Thomas Carlyle, I don't think he
ever rewrote it."
The general practice of Jack-o-Lantern was that
its literary content appeared unsigned, a circumstance
that renders it impossible to compile today
a comprehensive listing of Geisel's writings for its
pages. The author himself has only vague recollections
of what he in fact wrote for the publication, although
he does remember that certain contributions
were written jointly with Maclean, including ones
that came about in a singular fashion.—
"Norman and I had a rather peculiar method of
creating literary gems. Hunched behind his typewriter,
he would bang out a line of words.
"Sometimes he'd tell me what he'd written,
sometimes not. But, then, he'd always say, 'The next
line's yours' And, always, I'd supply it.
"This may have made for rough reading. But it
was great sport writing."
The art work included in Jack-o-Lantern was,
unlike its "lit," usually signed, and the magazine's issues
of 1921-1925 are liberally sprinkled with cartoons
bearing explicit evidence of having come from Ted
The 1920s were seemingly "the era of the pun,"
and many of the individual cartoons are found to
have involved puns or currently popular expressions.
Going back, now, over the pages of Jacko for his
undergraduate years, Geisel is rather stern in his
judgment of the cartoons that were included, and
particularly of those he himself drew.
In summing up his assessment he says:
"You have to look at these things in the perspective
of fifty years ago. These things may have been
considered funny then, I hope — but today I sort of
"The best I can say about the Jacko of this era is
that they were doing just as badly on the Harvard
Lampoon, the Yale Record, and the Columbia Jester.”
During his student days Geisel also went into
print from time to time in another campus publication,
The Dartmouth, "America's Oldest College
"Whit Campbell was editor of The Daily Dartmouth
at the time. I filled-in occasionally and did a
few journalistic squibs with him.
"Almost every night I’d be working in the Jack-
o-Lantern office, and while waiting for Whit's morning
paper, across the hall, to go to press, we used to
play a bit of poker.
"Once in a while, if one of Whit's news stories
turned sour, we'd put our royal-straight flushes face
down on the table, rewrite the story together, and
then pick up our royal-straight flushes again — and
sometimes raise each other as much as a quarter.
"This did little to affect the history of journal
ism in America. But it did cement the strongest personal
friendship I made at Dartmouth."
There were two especially noteworthy aspects
of the extensive work Geisel did for Dartmouth's
The first of these emerged during his junior
year, and he identifies it as having been in his undergraduate
period "the only clue to my future life." It
involved a technique of presentation, the approach to
a form for combining humorous writing and zany
"This was the year I discovered the excitement
of 'marrying’ words to pictures.
"I began to get it through my skull that words
and pictures were Yin and Yang. I began thinking that
words and pictures, married, might possibly produce
a progeny more interesting than either parent.
"It took me almost a quarter of a century to find
the proper way to get my words and pictures married.
At Dartmouth I couldn't even get them engaged."
The other particularly significant feature of
Geisel’s Jack-o-Lantern career relates to the spring of
1925, when apparently he first used the signature
"Seuss." The circumstances diat surrounded his employment
of the later-famous pseudonym, he outlines
"The night before Easter of my senior year there
were ten of us gathered in my room at the Randall
Club. We had a pint of gin for ten people, so that
proves nobody was really drinking.
"But Pa Randall, who hated merriment, called
Chief Rood, the chief of police, and he himself in person
"We all had to go before the dean, Craven
The disciplinary action imposed by Dean
Laycock meant that the editor-in-chief of Jack-o-
Lantern was relieved forthwith of his official responsibilities
for running the magazine. There existed,
however, the practical necessity of helping to bring
out its succeeding numbers during the remainder of
the academic year.
Articles and jokes presented no problem, since
they normally appeared anonymously; thus, anything
the deposed editor might do in that area could
be completely invisible as to its source.
Cartoons, on the other hand, usually being
signed contributions, did present a dilemma; and it
was a dilemma Theodor Seuss Geisel resolved by
publishing some of his cartoons entirely without signature
and by attributing others of them to fictitious
The final four Jacko issues in the spring of 1925
contained, accordingly, a number of Geisel cartoons
anonymously inserted or carrying utterly fanciful
cognomens (such as "L. Burbank" "Thos. Mott
"To what extent this corny subterfuge fooled
the dean, I never found out. But that's how 'Seuss'
first came to be used as my signature. The ‘Dr.’ was
added later on."
In June of 1925, Ted Geisel finished his undergraduate
course at Dartmouth and prepared to embark
upon a further academic adventure. It was one
he had ardently desired to pursue, but it proved, in
the end, to have a slightly different route of approach
than he had anticipated.—
"I remember my father writing me and asking,
'What are you going to do after you graduate?'
"I wrote back, 'Don't you worry about me, I'm
going to win a thing called the "Campbell Fellowship
in English Literature" and I'm going to Oxford'
"He read the letter rather hurriedly. The editor
of the Springfield Union lived across the street from us
(that was Maurice Sherman; he was also a Dartmouth
man), and my father ran across the street and
said: ‘Hey, what do you know? Ted won a fellowship
"So, Maurice Sherman, being a staunch Dartmouth
man, ran my picture in the paper (I think it
was on the front page): 'GEISEL WINS FELLOWSHIP
TO GO TO OXFORD.' And everybody called up
my father and congratulated him.
"Well, it so happened that that year they found
nobody in the College worthy of giving the Campbell
Fellowship to. So, my father, to save face with
Maurice Sherman and others, had to dig up the
money to send me to Oxford, anyway."
In the autumn of 1925, Geisel entered Oxford as
a member of Lincoln College.—
"My tutor was A. J. Carlyle, the nephew of the
great, frightening Thomas Carlyle. I was surprised to
see him alive. He was surprised to see me in any form.
"He was the oldest man I've ever seen riding a
bicycle. I was the only man he'd ever seen who never
ever should have come to Oxford.
"This brilliant scholar had taken 'Firsts' in every
School in Oxford, excepting medicine, without studying.
Every year, up to his eighties, he went up for a
different 'First,' just for the hell of it.
"Patiently, he had me write essays and listened
to me read them, in the usual manner of the Oxford
tutorial system. But he realized I was getting stultified
in English Schools.
"I was bogged down with old High German
and Gothic and stuff of that sort, in which I have no
interest whatsoever — and I don't think anybody really
"Well, he was a great historian, and he quickly
discovered that I didn't know any history. Somehow
or other I got through high school and Dartmouth
without taking one history course.
"He very correctly told me I was ignorant, and
he was the man who suggested that I do what I finally
did: just travel around Europe with a bundle of high
school history books and visit the places I was reading
about — go to the museums and look at pictures
and read as I went. That's what I finally did."
As an example of one factor contributing to the
stultifying atmosphere he encountered at Oxford, he
still has vivid memories of a don at the university
who had produced a variorum edition of Shakespeare
and who was chiefly interested in punctuational
differences in Shakespearean texts.—
"That was the man who really drove me out of
Oxford. I'll never forget his two-hour lecture on the
punctuation of King Lear.
"He had dug up all of the old folios, as far back
as he could go. Some had more semi-colons than
commas. Some had more commas than periods.
Some had no punctuation at all.
"For the first hour and a half he talked about the
first two pages in King Lear, lamenting the fact that
modern people would never comprehend the true
essence of Shakespeare, because it's punctuated badly
"It got unbelievable. I got up, went back to my
room, and started packing."
A notebook used by Geisel during his time at
Oxford has survived among his papers.—
"I think this demonstrates that I wasn't very interested
in the subtle niceties and complexities of
English literature. As you go through the notebook,
there's a growing incidence of flying cows and strange
beasts. And, finally, at the last page of the notebook
there are no notes on English literature at all. There
are just strange beasts."
This period, despite its academic frustrations,
"While I was at Oxford I illustrated a great hunk
of Paradise Lost.
"With the imagery of Paradise Lost, Milton's
sense of humor failed him in a couple of places. I remember
one line, 'Thither came the angel Uriel, sliding
down a sunbeam.'
"I illustrated that: Uriel had a long, locomotive
oil can and was greasing the sunbeam as he descended,
to lessen the friction on his coccyx. And I
worked a lot on Adam and Eve.
"Blackwell, the great bookseller and publisher,
was right around the corner from Lincoln, and I remember
I had the crust to go in there and ask them to
commission me to do the whole thing.
"Somebody took it into a back room and then
came back with it very promptly and said, 'This isn't
quite the Blackwell type of humor'
"So, I was thrown out. But I got my revenge
"I went to Oxford about twenty years later. I
went past Blackwell's and found the whole window
Clearly, the most important circumstance associated
with Ted Geisel’s interval at the University of
Oxford was his meeting there a young lady from
New Jersey named Helen Palmer.
A graduate of Wellesley College, Miss Palmer
had in the autumn of 1924 entered upon studies at
Oxford to complete her preparations for becoming a
schoolteacher back home in America.—
"She was a gal who was sitting next to me when
I was doing this notebook, and she was the one who
said, ‘You’re not very interested in the lectures.’ She
'picked me up’ by looking over and saying, I think
that's a very good flying cow.’
"It was she who finally convinced me that flying
cows were a better future than tracing long and short
E through Anglo Saxon.
"She was the one who convinced me that I wasn't
for pedagogy at all.
"On the other hand, she did complete the English
Schools that year; took her degree in English Lit.
This enabled her to get a job teaching English in the
States. This enabled us to get married."
Upon quitting Oxford, Geisel did engage
briefly in one final scholastic interlude, this time in
“At Oxford I went to a lecture (I was very interested
in Jonathan Swift) by the great Emil Legouis.
Although he was a Frenchman, he was the greatest
Swift authority in the world at that time.
"He talked to me at the end of the lecture and
began selling me on going to study with him at the
Sorbonne. And, after I left Oxford, I did so.
"I registered at the Sorbonne, and I went over to
his house to find out exactly what he wanted me to do.
"He said, ‘I have a most interesting assignment
which should only take you about two years to complete.’
He said that nobody had ever discovered anything
that Jonathan Swift wrote from the age of sixteen
and a half to seventeen.
"He said I should devote two years to finding
out whether he had written anything. If he had, I
could analyze what he wrote as my D.Phil. thesis.
Unfortunately, if he hadn't written anything, I
wouldn't get my doctorate.
"I remember leaving his charming home and
walking straight to the American Express Company
"There I proceeded to paint donkeys for a
month. Then, I proceeded with Carlyle's idea and
began living all around the Continent, reading history
books, going to museums, and drawing pictures.
"I remember a long period in which I drew
nothing but gargoyles. They were easier than Mona
And what of those months of junketing?—
"While floating around Europe trying to figure
out what I wanted to do with my life, I decided at
one point that I would be the Great American
Novelist. And so I sat down and wrote the Great
"It turned out to be not so great, so I boiled it
down in the Great American Short Story. It wasn't
very great in that form either.
"Two years later I boiled it down once more and
sold it as a two-line joke to Judge.”
Home once again in Springfield, Geisel lived
with his parents and began submitting cartoons to
"I was trying to become self-sufficient — and my
Finally, a submission to The Saturday Evening
Post was accepted. It was a cartoon depicting two
tourists on a camel, and it appeared in the magazine's
issue for July 16,1927.
The drawing was signed simply "Seuss" by its
draftsman-humorist, resurrecting the pseudonym he
had used in the Dartmouth Jack-o-Lantern two years
"The main reason that I picked 'Seuss' professionally
is that I still thought I was one day going to
write the Great American Novel. I was saving my real
name for that — and it looks like I still am."
Actually, the Post in publishing his cartoon accorded
"Seuss" no pseudonymity whatsoever, for it
supplied the identification "Drawn by Theodor Seuss
Geisel" in a byline of type, right along the edge of the
"When the Post paid me twenty-five bucks for
that picture, I informed my parents that my future
success was assured; I would quickly make my fame
and fortune in The Saturday Evening Post.
"It didn't quite work out that way. It took
But success during the summer of 1927 in placing
something with The Saturday Evening Post was a
cause for great elation — and, moreover, for a decision
on the cartoonist's part to leave Springfield.—
"Bubbling over with self-assurance, I told my
parents they no longer had to feed or clothe me.
"I had a thousand dollars saved up from the
Jack-o-Lantern (in those days college magazines made
a profit), and with this I jumped onto the New York,
New Haven, & Hartford Railroad; and I invaded the
Big City, where I knew that all the editors would be
waiting to buy my wares."
In New York, Geisel moved in with an artist
friend from his Dartmouth undergraduate days,
John C. Rose, who had a one-room studio in
Greenwich Village, upstairs over Don Dickerman's
night club called the "Pirates Den."—
"The last thing we used to do at night was to
stand on chairs and, with canes we'd bought for that
purpose, play polo with the rats, and try to drive
"And I wasn't selling any wares. I tried to do so
phisticated things for Vanity Fair; I tried unsophisticated
things for the Daily Mirror.
"I wasn't getting anywhere at all, until John
suddenly said one day, 'There's a guy called "Beef
Vernon," of my class at Dartmouth, who has just
landed a job as a salesman to sell advertising for
"'His job won't last long, because nobody buys
any advertising in Judge. But maybe, before Beef gets
fired, we can con him into introducing you to
Norman Anthony, the editor.'"
The result of the Geisel-Anthony meeting was
the offer of a job as a staff writer-artist for the humor
magazine, at a salary of seventy-five dollars per week
— enough encouragement to cause Ted Geisel and
Helen Palmer (who had been teaching during the
year since the completion of her Oxford studies) to
marry. The wedding took place at Westfield, New
Jersey, on November 29,1927.—
"We got married on the strength of that. Then,
"And the next week they instituted another fiscal
policy (I was getting a little bit worried by this time)
in which they dispensed with money entirely and
paid contributors with due bills. Due bills?
"Judge had practically no advertising. And the
advertisers it attracted seldom paid for the ads with
money; they paid the magazine with due bills. And
that's what we, the artists and writers, ended up with
in lieu of salary.
"For instance: a hundred dollars; the only way
for me to get the hundred dollars was to go down to
the Hotel Traymore in Atlantic City and move into a
"So, Helen and I spent many weeks of our first
married year in sumptuous suites in Atlantic City —
where we didn't want to be at all.
"Under the due-bill system I got paid once, believe
it or not, in a hundred cartons of Barbasol shaving
cream. Another time I got paid in thirteen gross
of Little Gem nail clippers.
"Looking back on it, it wasn't really so bad, be-
"How can you file an income tax when you're
being paid in cases of White Rock soda?"
And where did the newlywed Geisels set up
housekeeping in New York?—
"Oh, we went to a place across from a stable in
Hell's Kitchen, on 18th Street.
"Horses frequentiy died in the stable, and they'd
drag them out and leave them in the street, where
they'd be picked up by Sanitation two or three days
"That's where I learned to carry a 'loaded' cane.
It was about a three-block walk to the subway. If you
weren't carrying a weapon of some sort, you'd be sure
to get mugged.
"So, Helen and I worked harder than ever to get
out of this place. And we finally managed to move
north, to 79th Street and West End Avenue. There
there were many fewer dead horses."
"Seuss" work in Judge consisted not only of cartoons.—
"I was writing some crazy stories, as well. It was
Among these combination pieces, extending
the type of thing he had begun doing as an undergraduate
at Dartmouth, Geisel produced for Judge a
succession of regular contributions signed in a way
that brought his pseudonym into the final form of its
"I started to do a feature called ‘Boids and
Beasties.’ It was a mock-zoological thing, and I put
the ‘Dr.’ on the ‘Seuss' to make me sound more professorial."
At first the self-bestowed "Dr." was accompanied
by "Theophrastus" or "Theo." in by-lines and as
a signature for drawings, but with the passage of time
"Dr. Seuss" was settled on as the standard form of his
"Dr. Seuss" soon found his way into other magazines
of the day, besides Judge, including Liberty,
College Humor, and Life. He even teamed up, at one
point, with humorist Corey Ford in a collaboration
for Vanity Fair that was, in the end, to be abandoned
out of pure frustration.—
"I illustrated some stories for Corey Ford in
"The last thing I did with Corey was a spoof on
political cartooning in the 1890s — a Boss Tweed type
"The art director laid the thing out before I did
the drawings, and he insisted that my average picture
was to be nine inches wide and three-quarters of an
inch high. This caused Boss Tweed and me to roll
over in our graves.
"Corey and I remained good friends, but we
didn't work together after that."
An occurrence early in Geisel’s period of association
with Judge was to have a particular impact on
his subsequent career.—
"I'd been working for Judge about four months
when I drew this accidental cartoon which changed
my whole life. It was an insecticide gag.
"It was a picture of a knight who had gone to
bed. He had stacked his armor beside the bed. There
was this covered canopy over the bed, and a tremendous
dragon was sort of nuzzling him.
"He looked up and said, 'Darn it all, another
"With what? I wondered.
"There were two well-known insecticides. One
was Flit and one was Fly Tox. So, I tossed a coin. It
came up heads, for Flit.
"So, the caption read, ‘... another Dragon.
And just after I’d sprayed the whole castle with Flit!”
"Here's where luck came in.
"Very few people ever bought Judge. It was continually
in bankruptcy — and everybody else was
"But one day the wife of Lincoln L. Cleaves,
who was the account executive on Flit at the
McCann-Erikson advertising agency, failed to get an
appointment at her favorite hairdresser and went to a
second-rate hairdresser's, where they had second-rate
"She opened Judge while waiting to get her hair
dressed, and she found this picture. She ripped it out
of the magazine, put it in her reticule, took it home,
bearded her husband with it, and said, 'Lincoln,
you've got to hire this young man; it's the best Flit ad
I've ever seen.'
"He said, 'Go away' He said, 'You're my wife,
and you're to have nothing to do with my business'
"So, she pestered him for about two weeks, and
finally he said, 'All right, I'll have him in, and I'll buy
"He had me in. I drew one picture — which I
captioned 'Quick, Henry, the Flit!' — and it was published.
"Then, they hired me to do two more — and
seventeen years later I was still doing them.
"The only good thing Adolph Hider did in
starting World War II was that he enabled me to join
the Army and finally stop drawing 'Quick, Henry, the
"I'd drawn them by the millions — newspaper
ads, magazine ads, booklets, window displays,
twenty-four-sheet posters, even 'Quick, Henry, the
Flit!' animated cartoons. Flit was pouring out of my
ears and beginning to itch me."
The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, the
manufacturers of Flit, had another product with
which Geisel was to become concerned, in an ad
campaign that led to something of a naval career for
"They had a product called ‘Esso Marine' a lubricating
oil for boats, and they didn't have a lot of
money to spend on advertising.
"They decided to see what we could do with
public relations. So, Harry Bruno, a great PR man,
Ted Cook and Verne Carrier of Esso, and I cooked up
the Seuss Navy.
"Starting small at one of the New York motorboat
shows, we printed up a few diplomas, and we
took about fifteen prominent people into membership —
Vincent Astor and sailors like that, who had
tremendous yachts — so we could photograph them
at the boat show receiving their certificates.
"We waited to see what happened. Well, Astor
and Guy Lombardo and a few other celebrities hung
these things in their yachts. And very soon everyone
who had a putt-putt wanted to join the Seuss Navy.
"The next year we started giving annual banquets
at the Biltmore. It was cheaper to give a party
for a few thousand people, furnishing all the booze,
than it was to advertise in full-page ads.
"And it was successful because we never mentioned
die product at all Reporters would cover the
"At the time war was declared, in 1941, we had
the biggest navy in the world. We commissioned the
whole Standard Oil fleet, and we also had, for example,
the Queen Mary and most of the ships of die U.S.
"Then, an interesting thing happened. I left to
join the Army. And somebody said: 'Thank God,
Geisel's gone, he was wasting a great opportunity. He
wasn't selling the product. We have Seuss Navy hats,
and we have Seuss Navy glasses and Seuss Navy
flags.' He said, 'These things should carry advertising
"They put advertising on them, and the Navy
promptly died. The fun had gone out of it, and the
Seuss Navy sank."
Concurrently with his advertising and promotional
activity relating to Flit and Esso Marine, "Dr.
Seuss" continued to contribute to the humor magazines;
but he was not entirely free.—
"My contract with the Standard Oil Company
was an exclusive one and forbade me from doing an
awful lot of stuff
"Flit being seasonal, its ad campaign was only
run during the summer months. I'd get my year's
work done in about three months, and I had all this
spare time and nothing to do.
"They let me work for magazines, because I'd
already established that. But it crimped future expansion
into other things."
Restless to explore new avenues of activity,
Geisel ultimately hit upon the notion of preparing a
volume for children.—
"I would like to say I went into children's-book
work because of my great understanding of children.
I went in because it wasn't excluded by my Standard
Another evident cause for his focusing on the
possibility of doing books at some point was a commission
he received to provide "Dr. Seuss" illustrations
for an anthology of amusing gaffes unconsciously and
innocently perpetrated by school children, a work by
Alexander Abingdon that styled itself as "compiled
from classrooms and examination papers."—
"The book was originally published in England,
where it was called Schoolboy Howlers. Some smart
person at Viking Press in New York (I think it was
Marshall Best) brought out a reprint of the English
edition, under the title Boners.
"Whereupon hundreds of teachers in the U.S. A.
began sending in boners from their examination papers.
And the Boner Business boomed."
Boners and its sequel, More Boners, were both
published in 1931.—
"That was a big Depression year. And although
by Depression standards I was adequately paid a flat
fee for illustrating these best sellers, I was money-
worried. The two books were booming and I was not.
"This is the point when I first began to realize
that if I hoped to succeed in the book world, I’d have
to write, as well as draw."
The actual coming into being of a book of his
own, the first of what was to be so substantial and celebrated
a series of volumes written and illustrated by
"Dr. Seuss" derived from a curious stimulus and
through decidedly unusual means.—
"I was on a long, stormy crossing of the
Atlantic, and it was too rough to go out on deck.
Everybody in the ship just sat in the bar for a week,
listening to the engines turn over: da-da-ta-ta, da-da-
"To keep from going nuts, I began reciting silly
words to the rhythm of the engines. Out of nowhere
I found myself saying, 'And that is a story that no one
can beat; and to think that I saw it on Mulberry
"When I finally got off the ship, this refrain kept
going through my head. I couldn't shake it. To therapeutize
myself I added more words in the same
"Six months later I found I had a book on my
hands, called And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry
Street. So, what to do with it?
"I submitted it to twenty-seven publishers. It
was turned down by all twenty-seven. The main reason
they all gave was there was nothing similar on the
market, so of course it wouldn't sell.
"After the twenty-seventh publisher had turned
it down, I was taking the book home to my apartment,
to burn it in the incinerator, and I bumped into
Mike McClintock (Marshall McClintock, Dartmouth
1926) coming down Madison Avenue.
"He said, 'What's that under your arm?'
"I said, 'That's a book that no one will publish.
I'm lugging it home to burn.'
"Then, I asked Mike, 'What are you doing?'
"He said, 'This morning I was appointed juvenile
editor of Vanguard Press, and we happen to be standing
in front of my office; would you like to come inside?'
"So, we went inside, and he looked at the book
and he took me to the president of Vanguard Press.
Twenty minutes later we were signing contracts.
"That's one of the reasons I believe in luck. If I'd
been going down the other side of Madison Avenue,
I would be in the dry-cleaning business today."
And what reception did the public accord And
to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, when the
book was released in 1937?—
"In those days children's books didn't sell very
well, and it became a bestseller at ten thousand
copies, believe it or not. (Today, at Beginner Books, if
we're bringing out a doubtful book, we print twenty
"But, we were in the Depression era, and
Mulberry Street cost a dollar — which was then a lot of
"I remember what a big day it was in my life
when Mike McClintock called up and announced: I
just sold a thousand copies of your book to Marshall
Field. Congratulations! You are an author.'"
In addition to favorable sales, the comment of
one particular reviewer was especially significant in
encouraging the fledgling author of children's books
toward further effort in this new-to-him field.—
"Clifton Fadiman, I think, was partially respon-
sible for my going on in children's books. He wrote a
review for The New Yorker, a one-sentence review.
"He said, ‘They say it's for children, but better
get a copy for yourself and marvel at the good Dr.
Seuss's impossible pictures and the moral tale of the
little boy who exaggerated not wisely but too well.'
"I remember that impressed me very much: If
the great Kip Fadiman likes it, I'll have to do another."
Another he did do (The 500 Hats of Bartholomew
Cubbins, in 1938) and then another and another and
another — to the point that there have been to date
nearly fifty volumes of his authorship, in addition to
widely acclaimed motion pictures and animated
In 1955 Ted Geisel returned to Dartmouth in
order that his alma mater might, fondly and proudly,
bestow upon him an honorary degree. President John
Sloan Dickey's citation on that occasion proclaimed:
"Creator and fancier of fanciful beasts; your
affinity for flying elephants and man-eating mosquitoes
makes us rejoice you were not around to be
Director of Admissions on Mr. Noah's ark. But our
rejoicing in your career is far more positive: as author
and artist you single-handedly have stood as St.
George between a generation of exhausted parents
and the demon dragon of unexhausted children on a
rainy day. There was an inimitable wriggle in your
work long before you became a producer of motion
pictures and animated cartoons; and, as always with
the best of humor, behind the fun there has been intelligence,
kindness, and a feel for humankind. An
Academy Award-winner and holder of the Legion of
Merit for war film work, you have stood these many
Designed and printed by
The Stinehour Press.
Last Updated: 3/13/18