Theodor Seuss Geisel wasn't actually a doctor (at least not until his alma mater, Dartmouth, gave him an honorary PhD), but his unique poetic meter and leap-off-the-page illustrations made him one of the most successful children's writers in history (over 220 million books sold). Here are five stories about the man behind such classics as The Cat in the Hat and Oh, the Places You'll Go!
1. Dr. Seuss came from a long line of German brewmasters, which perhaps explains how he came to throw a drunken bash during his Dartmouth days. Due to school policy (and also federal law, since Prohibition forbade drinking in those days), Ted's excellent adventure got him fired from his position at The Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern, the college's humor magazine. But the wily Geisel never let The Man keep him down: He kept writing for the Jack-O-Lantern, adopting the pseudonym "Seuss" (his middle name).
2. In 1960, publisher Bennett Cerf bet Dr. Seuss $50 that Seuss couldn't write a book using only 50 different words. So Seuss wrote Green Eggs and Ham, which became an instant picture book classic. (Incidentally, Cerf apparently never paid up.)
Green Eggs and Ham marked the apex of Seuss's minimalist-vocabulary period, and it was an awfully impressive feat (we used 50 different words just to tell you about it).
3. Before he started speaking for the trees, Dr. Seuss was working for big oil. For fifteen years he wrote and designed ads for the corporate monolith Standard Oil. In a series of ads hawking Standard's pesticide Flit, Geisel coined the popular catchphrase, "Quick, Henry, the Flit!" which was sort of the "Mikey likes it!" of its time.
4. When Dr. Seuss Goes to War, a collection of Geisel's World War II–era cartoons created for PM magazine, was published in 1999, the American public was stunned. How could the author of peace-loving, Truffula Tree–hugging children's books have penned wartime cartoons that attacked Japanese Americans and depicted the Japanese as bucktoothed buffoons? Some argued that Seuss was only reflecting his times; others argued that racism is racism (regardless of whether it's in a box or with a fox).
5. While it would be an exaggeration to say that Dr. Seuss singlehandedly ended the Cold War, The Butter Battle Book was one of the most influential anti-arms-race books of the '80s. Telling the story of the absurd war between the Yooks and the Zooks (whose sole disagreement is whether one ought to eat bread butter side up or butter side down), Seuss subtly challenged the Reagan administration's emphasis on defense over social welfare programs. For six months, the book was on the New York Times Best Seller list—for adults.
This article was excerpted from Scatterbrained, a mental_floss book. You can pick up a copy in our store.