20 Surprising Facts About Dr. Seuss

Al Ravenna, Library of Congress New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Al Ravenna, Library of Congress New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Bennett Cerf, the co-founder of publishing giant Random House, used to say that of all the authors who had ever written for his esteemed company—a list that included William Faulkner, Eugene O’Neill, and Sinclair Lews—there was only one "genius." "His name," Cerf declared, "is Ted Geisel."

A native of Springfield, Massachusetts, Theodor Seuss Geisel—who you probably know better by his pen name, Doctor Seuss—was born on March 2, 1904. To celebrate what would have been his 115th birthday, we’ve rounded up some amazing facts about Geisel’s life, his art, and his unforgettable characters.

1. Theodor Geisel's father worked with beer. And zoo animals.

Dr. Seuss’s dad had an interesting career path. Born in 1879, Theodor Robert Geisel was a brewmaster and a competitive marksman of international renown. When Prohibition went into effect in 1920, Geisel entered a new line of work and became the superintendent of Forest Park in Springfield, Massachusetts. Among his responsibilities, the elder Geisel oversaw the park’s onsite zoo. “That zoo,” his famous son later remarked, “is where I learned whatever I know about animals.”

2. Teddy Roosevelt scarred Geisel for life.

President Theodore 'Teddy' Roosevelt salutes a crowd during a public appearance
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Geisel was a Boy Scout, and in this capacity he sold U.S. war bonds. Since he was one of the 10 best bond sellers in his Boy Scout troop, he and his entire family were invited to attend a special ceremony that was held on May 2, 1918. There, Geisel was going to receive a medal from former president Theodore Roosevelt. But the event organizers accidentally gave Teddy nine medals instead of 10 ... and Roosevelt’s supply ran out right before Geisel (who’d been sitting on stage with the other boys) was supposed to receive his.

Not realizing that he had been shorted one medal, Roosevelt looked at Geisel and asked “What is this little boy doing here?” Rather than explain that there had been a mix-up, a Scoutmaster instead whisked a humiliated Geisel off the stage. Geisel attributed his lifelong fear of public speaking to this embarrassing incident.

3. Dr. Seuss dabbled in taxidermy.

Geisel created weird, sculpted busts of fictional beasts—like the Mulberry Street unicorn and a “carbonic walrus”—out of body parts from exotic animals that had passed away at his father’s zoo. He called it “Unorthodox Taxidermy.”

4. “Seuss” was originally pronounced “Soice.”

The “Dr. Seuss” alias evolved from a pseudonym that Geisel came up with at Dartmouth College, his undergraduate alma mater. Not coincidentally, Seuss was also the maiden name of Geisel's mother, Henrietta. In its traditional pronunciation, Seuss rhymes with voice. But as the author’s fame grew, people started mispronouncing it.

Geisel’s friend, Alexander Liang, responded by writing a poem: “You’re wrong as the deuce / And you shouldn’t rejoice / If you’re calling him Seuss / He pronounces it Soice.”

5. Geisel named a major character in his first book after his editor's son.

The cover of 'And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street,' Doctor Seuss's first published children's book
Random House via Amazon

Geisel’s debut children’s book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was released in 1937. Editor Marshall "Mike" McClintock at Vanguard Press accepted the manuscript after anywhere from 20 to 43 other publishers rejected it. (Geisel’s accounts of his many rejections don’t provide us with a consistent number.) McClintock knew the budding children's author from their days at Dartmouth. Geisel, to show his gratitude, named the book’s main character after McClintock's son, Marco.

6. One of Dr. Seuss's rejected story ideas was about Mount Everest.

Before Geisel began working on The Cat in the Hat, he wanted to write a children’s book about climbing Mount Everest in subzero temperatures. He hoped that it would be a thrilling page-turner for kids—and the antithesis of the Dick and Jane texts most schoolchildren were forced to read in those days. But upon pitching the idea to a publisher, Geisel was told that he couldn’t use the words Everest, scaling, peaks, or degrees, because young readers wouldn't recognize or understand them.

7. Geisel had a successful advertising career.

Both before and after he began publishing children's books, Geisel worked in advertising. Ford, Holly Sugar, and General Electric all employed Geisel’s artistic talents in print ads. In 1928, the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey put him on their payroll; Geisel earned $12,000 a year to draw cartoons and posters for Flit, a Standard Oil-owned insecticide brand. During that time, the slogan he devised—“Quick, Henry, the Flit!”—became culturally iconic. Geisel worked with the company until 1941.

8. Geisel worked with Chuck Jones and Ray Harryhausen during World War II.

During World War II, Geisel joined forces with two of the biggest names in animation: Chuck Jones and Ray Harryhausen. Jones—who created such iconic Looney Tunes characters as Marvin the Martian, Pepé Le Pew, Wile E. Coyote, and the Road Runner—worked with Geisel during the war to create dozens of animated shorts for America’s armed forces. A recurring character in their cartoons was Private Snafu, who helped teach soldiers about things like mine field procedures, good hygiene, and what to do with classified information.

Snafu's physical appearance was based on a model co-designed by sculptor Ray Harryhausen (under Geisel’s supervision). Harryhausen quickly emerged as a pioneer in the field of stop-motion animation; Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and One Million Years B.C. (1966) are among his best-known movies.

9. In the 1930s, Geisel illustrated “boner” books.

The cover of Dr. Seuss's 'The Pocket Book of Boners'
Pocket Books via Amazon

Relax, people: Boner means mistake or blunder (at least it did back when these books came out). Published by Viking Press in 1931, Boners was a short collection of hilariously inaccurate statements made by schoolchildren. (“The people of Moscow are called Mosquitoes,” surmised one kid.) Geisel was hired to draw original cartoons to match the one-liners. Viking went on to release three sequels, including More Boners, which Geisel also illustrated. They were eventually packaged into one volume, The Pocket Book of Boners.

10. Yertle the Turtle is a stand-in for Hitler.

“Kids gag at having morals crammed down their throats,” Geisel told The Saturday Evening Post in 1965. “But there is a moral inherent in any damn thing you write that has a dramatic point ... Still I never set out to prove a point—except for Yertle the Turtle, a deliberate parable of the life of Hitler.” While developing the story, the author even considered giving Yertle a mustache.

11. A line about Lake Erie was cut from The Lorax many years after its original publication.

Lake Erie was a national punchline when The Lorax was first published in 1971. Runaway phosphorous pollution had set off massive algal blooms and dead fish were washing ashore in frightening numbers. In early editions of The Lorax, the title character tells the villainous Once-ler that he’s evicting the native humming fish from a polluted pond. “I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie,” The Lorax added.

Fifteen years later, Geisel was contacted by Rosanne Fortner, an environmental education coordinator at The Ohio State University. She informed the author that after The Lorax’s publication, cleanup efforts had done wonders for the lake. At her request, Geisel removed all references to Lake Erie in later printings of the book.

12. Geisel put NSFW pictures in book manuscripts—just to make sure his editors were paying attention.

Ted Geisel, American writer and cartoonist, at work on a drawing of the grinch for "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"
Al Ravenna, Library of Congress New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

A draft of the alphabet primer Dr. Seuss’ ABC that Geisel sent to his editor at Random House had a picture of a naked woman next to the letter “X.” The text that accompanied the image read: "Big X, little x. X,X,X / Someday, kiddies, you will learn about SEX.” Geisel knew full well that Random House would never include that sort of verse in a children’s book. He reportedly only put it in the draft to keep his bosses on their toes.

13. Richard Nixon was the target of a Seussian parody.

Geisel wasn't a fan of Richard Nixon. In the summer of 1974, with Nixon facing almost certain impeachment over the Watergate scandal, the writer sent the The Washington Post a parody of his beloved story, Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! Its amended title? Richard M. Nixon, Will You Please Go Now!

The full version, which was published by the newspaper on July 30, implored the president to resign. "The time has come, the time is now,” it read. “Just go. Go. Go! I don’t care how. You can go by foot. You can go by cow. Richard M. Nixon, Will You Please Go Now!”

14. A dinosaur footprint was one of his most cherished possessions.

One of Geisel's most beloved possessions was a fossilized dinosaur footprint that had been gifted to him by his father. Geisel made the track the centerpiece of the rock garden at his home in La Jolla, California. The footprint, which measured approximately 16 inches in length and and 11 inches in width, came from a Massachusetts shale pit and was estimated to be about 150 million years old. Geisel was awed by its age, and by the sheer size of its prehistoric maker. “It keeps me from getting conceited,” he once said. “Whenever I think I’m pretty good, I just go out and look at it.”

Since Geisel adored practical jokes, some of his house guests assumed the fossil was fake. “Half the people I show it to think I made it myself,” he admitted.

15. Dr. Seuss may have invented the word nerd.

Statue of Dr. Seuss and The Cat in the Hat at University of California San Diego
iStock.com/Georgejason

“Someone who once would be called a dip or square is now, regrettably, called a nerd,” Newsweek reported in an October 8, 1951 story about teenager slang. This is the oldest published instance of the term nerd being used in that context. But it’s not the first time nerd appeared in print.

One year earlier, Dr. Seuss's If I Ran the Zoo arrived in bookstores. The narrator of the children’s classic vows to wrangle “A Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seer-Sucker, too.” Given that timeline of events, a few cultural commentators suspect that nerd was first coined by Geisel. When he was asked about its origins in 1987, Geisel said he’d never encountered the word before using it. “Perhaps it comes from Nerdfogel’ which I’m sure you know all about,” he joked.

16. Geisel waxed poetic about popovers during a commencement speech.

Public speaking may not have been Geisel's forte, but it came with the territory of being one of the world's most successful authors. In 1977, Geisel summoned the courage to say a few words to Lake Forest College's graduating class. Right after the school’s president emeritus presented him with an honorary degree, Geisel took the podium and treated everyone to an original—and uniquely inspirational—poem called “My Uncle Terwilliger on the Art of Eating Popovers.”

17. Dartmouth College regularly serves green eggs and ham in Geisel's honor.

A plate of green eggs and ham
iStock.com/ErikaMitchell

The Dartmouth Outing Club, which organizes outdoor treks and events for students at the Ivy League school, regularly pays tribute to Dr. Seuss by serving up green eggs and ham to freshmen who participate in some of their outdoor excursions.

18. It took Geisel three months to devise an ending for How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

In coming up with an ending for How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, Geisel wanted a happy resolution that was both sincere and sentimental but not overly theological. “I got hung up on how to get the Grinch out of the mess,” Geisel said. “I got into a situation where I sounded like a second-rate preacher or some bible thumper.”

After a full three months of wrestling with the problem and burning through “thousands of religious choices,” he chose to end the book with the wholesome image of the Grinch and the Whos seated around a dinner table, merrily eating Roast Beast.

19. A few of Dr. Seuss's books have been translated into Latin.

Terence and Jennifer Tunberg are a husband and wife duo who teach classics at the University of Kentucky. Together, they created Latin translations of three popular Dr. Seuss books. Published in 1998, their edition of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! was titled Quomodo Invidiosulus Nomine Grinchus Christi Natalem Abrogaverit. Then came Cattus Petasatus, the Tunbergs’ take on The Cat in the Hat. Finally, they released Virent Ova! Viret Perna!!, which is better known to readers as Green Eggs and Ham.

20. There’s a Dr. Seuss sculpture garden in Springfield, Massachusetts.

406079 02: Elementary school children, the Springfield Schools Seuss Singers perform in front of a bronze Horton the elelphant statue at the opening the Dr. Suess memorial sculpture garden May 31, 2001 in Springfield, MA.
William B. Plowman, Getty Images

Since opening to the public in 2002, the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden in Geisel's hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts has welcomed more than 3 million visitors. The garden is populated by bronze statues of characters like the Lorax, the Grinch, Horton the Elephant, and the Cat in the Hat. The garden is just steps from yet another Geisel attraction: The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum.

A ‘Lost’ Bible Belonging to Abraham Lincoln Is Going on Display for the First Time

Courtesy of the National Archives/Newsmakers
Courtesy of the National Archives/Newsmakers

A "lost" Bible belonging to Abraham Lincoln that's now on display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois may shed new light on his religious beliefs (or lack thereof), which scholars continue to debate.

The Ladies of the Citizens Volunteer Hospital of Philadelphia gave the 18-pound book to Lincoln in 1864 when he visited the city to raise money for soldiers' medical care. According to Smithsonian.com, after Lincoln's assassination in April 1865, Mary Todd Lincoln gave the Bible to the Reverend Noyes W. Miner, a close friend and neighbor of the Lincolns who helped transport Lincoln’s body from Chicago to Springfield and read at his funeral.

Historians were unaware of the Bible's existence until recently. Miner family members passed down the Bible for 150 years before donating it for public view, a decision they made after visiting the museum last year and being moved by the staff’s devotion to the history of the reverend and his involvement in Lincoln’s life, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Lincoln, who was raised as a Baptist but was never actually baptized, is one of only two presidents with no formal religious affiliation—the other was Thomas Jefferson.

Though Lincoln didn’t hide his skepticism in his early life and political career, some historians believe that the deaths of his two sons and the fight to end slavery elicited belief in the likelihood of a divine plan. Allen Guelzo, author of Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President, told History.com that Lincoln even told his Cabinet that he intended to issue the Emancipation Proclamation because he had vowed to God that if the Union Army won against the Confederates in Maryland (which happened at the Battle of Antietam in 1862), he would do so.

Mary Todd Lincoln, whose own spirituality has been well documented through her fondness for séances (which her husband may have attended at least occasionally), insisted that Lincoln was deeply religious. It’s also possible that Mary’s seemingly sentimental gift to the reverend was an effort to establish Lincoln's Christian credibility.

[h/t Smithsonian]

13 Surprising Facts About George Orwell

Cassowary Colorizations, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Cassowary Colorizations, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Before he assumed the pen name George Orwell, Eric Arthur Blair had a relatively normal upbringing for an upper-middle-class English boy of his time. Looking back now, his life proved to be anything but ordinary. He's best known for penning the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four—regarded as one of the greatest classics of all time—but writing novels was only one small facet of his life and career. In remembrance of Orwell, who was born on June 25, 1903, here are 13 facts about his life that may surprise you.

1. George Orwell attended prep school as a child—and hated it.

Eric Blair spent five years at the St. Cyprian School for boys in Eastbourne, England, which later inspired his melodramatic essay Such, Such Were the Joys. In this account, he called the school’s proprietors “terrible, all-powerful monsters” and labeled the institution itself "an expensive and snobbish school which was in process of becoming more snobbish, and, I imagine, more expensive." While Blair's misery is now considered to be somewhat exaggerated, the essay was deemed too libelous to print at the time. It was finally published in 1968 after his death.

2. He was a prankster.

Blair was expelled from his "crammer" school (an institution designed to help students "cram" for specific exams) for sending a birthday message attached to a dead rat to the town surveyor, according to Sir Bernard Crick's George Orwell: A Life, the first complete biography of Orwell. And while studying at Eton College, Orwell made up a song about John Crace, his school’s housemaster, in which he made fun of Crace’s appearance and penchant for Italian art:

Then up waddled Wog and he squeaked in Greek:
‘I’ve grown another hair on my cheek.’
Crace replied in Latin with his toadlike smile:
‘And I hope you’ve grown a lovely new pile.
With a loud deep fart from the bottom of my heart!
How d’you like Venetian art?'

Later, in a newspaper column, he recalled his boyhood hobby of replying to advertisements and stringing the salesmen along as a joke. “You can have a lot of fun by answering the advertisements and then, when you have drawn them out and made them waste a lot of stamps in sending successive wads of testimonials, suddenly leaving them cold,” he wrote.

3. He worked a number of odd jobs for most of his career.

A photo of Orwell with a BBC microphone
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Everyone’s got to pay the bills, and Blair was no exception. He spent most of his career juggling part-time jobs while authoring books on the side. Over the years, he worked as a police officer for the Indian Imperial Police in Burma (present-day Myanmar), a high school teacher, a bookstore clerk, a propagandist for the BBC during World War II, a literary editor, and a war correspondent. He also had stints as a dishwasher in Paris and as a hop-picker (for breweries) in Kent, England, but those jobs were for research purposes while “living as a tramp” and writing his first book about his experiences, Down and Out in Paris and London. (He chose to publish the book under a pseudonym, George Orwell, and the name stuck.)

4. He once got himself arrested. On purpose.


The National Archives UK // Public Domain

In 1931, while investigating poverty for his aforementioned memoir, Orwell intentionally got himself arrested for being “drunk and incapable.” This was done “in order to get a taste of prison and to bring himself closer to the tramps and small-time villains with whom he mingled,” biographer Gordon Bowker told The Guardian. At the time, he had been using the pseudonym Edward Burton and posing as a poor fish porter. After drinking several pints and almost a whole bottle of whisky and ostensibly making a scene (it’s uncertain what exactly was said or done), Orwell was arrested. His crime didn’t warrant prison time like he had hoped, and he was released after spending 48 hours in custody. He wrote about the experience in an unpublished essay titled Clink.

5. He had knuckle tattoos.

While working as a police officer in Burma, Orwell got his knuckles tattooed. Adrian Fierz, who knew Orwell, told biographer Gordon Bowker that the tattoos were small blue spots, “the shape of small grapefruits,” and Orwell had one on each knuckle. Orwell noted that some Burmese tribes believed tattoos would protect them from bullets. He may have gotten inked for similarly superstitious reasons, Bowker suggested, but it's more likely that he wanted to set himself apart from the British establishment in Burma. "He was never a properly 'correct' member of the Imperial class—hobnobbing with Buddhist priests, Rangoon prostitutes, and British drop-outs," Bowker wrote.

6. He knew seven foreign languages, to varying degrees.

Orwell wrote in a 1944 newspaper column, “In my life I have learned seven foreign languages, including two dead ones, and out of those seven I retain only one, and that not brilliantly.” In his youth, he learned French from Aldous Huxley, who briefly taught at Orwell’s boarding school and later went on to write Brave New World. Orwell ultimately became fluent in French, and at different points in his life he studied Latin, Greek, Spanish, and Burmese, to name a few.

7. He voluntarily fought in the Spanish Civil War.

Like fellow writer Ernest Hemingway and others with leftist leanings, Orwell got tangled up in the Spanish Civil War. At the age of 33, Orwell arrived in Spain, shortly after fighting had broken out in 1936, hoping to write some newspaper articles. Instead, he ended up joining the Republican militia to “fight fascism” because “it seemed the only conceivable thing to do.” The following year, he was shot in the neck by a sniper, but survived. He described the moment of being shot as “a tremendous shock—no pain, only a violent shock, such as you get from an electric terminal; with it a sense of utter weakness, a feeling of being stricken and shriveled up to nothing.” He wrote about his war experiences in the book Homage to Catalonia.

8. His manuscript for Animal Farm was nearly destroyed by a bomb.


Thomas D, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

In 1944, Orwell’s home at 10 Mortimer Crescent in London was struck by a “doodlebug” (a German V-1 flying bomb). Orwell, his wife Eileen, and their son Richard Horatio were away at the time, but their home was demolished. During his lunch break at the British newspaper Tribune, Orwell would return to the foundation where his home once stood and sift through the rubble in search of his books and papers—most importantly, the manuscript for Animal Farm. “He spent hours and hours rifling through rubbish. Fortunately, he found it,” Richard recalled in a 2012 interview with Ham & High. Orwell then piled everything into a wheelbarrow and carted it back to his office.

9. He had a goat named Muriel.

He and his wife Eileen tended to several farm animals at their home in Wallington, England, including Muriel the goat. A goat by the same name in Orwell’s book Animal Farm is described as being one of the few intelligent and morally sound animals on the farm, making her one of the more likable characters in this dark work of dystopian fiction.

10. He coined the term "Cold War."

The first recorded usage of the phrase “cold war” in reference to relations between the U.S. and Soviet Union can be traced back to Orwell’s 1945 essay You and the Atom Bomb, which was written two months after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the essay, he described “a state which was at once unconquerable and in a permanent state of ‘cold war’ with its neighbors.” He continued:

“Had the atomic bomb turned out to be something as cheap and easily manufactured as a bicycle or an alarm clock, it might well have plunged us back into barbarism, but it might, on the other hand, have meant the end of national sovereignty and of the highly centralized police state. If, as seems to be the case, it is a rare and costly object as difficult to produce as a battleship, it is likelier to put an end to large-scale wars at the cost of prolonging indefinitely a ‘peace that is no peace.’”

11. He ratted out Charlie Chaplin and other artists for allegedly being communists.

Orwell self-identified as a democratic socialist, but his sympathy didn’t extend to communists. In 1949, he compiled a list of artists he suspected of having communist leanings and passed it along to his friend, Celia Paget, who worked for the UK’s Information Research Department. After the war ended, the branch was tasked with distributing anti-communist propaganda throughout Europe. Orwell's list included Charlie Chaplin and a few dozen other actors, writers, academics, and politicians. Other notable names that were written down in his notebook but weren’t turned over to the IRD included Katharine Hepburn, John Steinbeck, George Bernard Shaw, Orson Welles, and Cecil Day-Lewis (the father of Daniel Day-Lewis).

Orwell’s intention was to blacklist those individuals, whom he considered untrustworthy, from IRD employment. While journalist Alexander Cockburn labeled Orwell a “snitch,” biographer Bernard Crick wrote, “He wasn’t denouncing these people as subversives. He was denouncing them as unsuitable for counter-intelligence operation.”

12. He really hated American fashion magazines.

A woman reads a fashion magazine in the '40s
Keystone View/FPG/Getty Images

For a period of about a year and a half, Orwell penned a regular column called As I Please for the newspaper Tribune, in which he shared his thoughts on everything from war to objective truth to literary criticism. One such column from 1946 featured a brutal takedown of American fashion magazines. Of the models appearing on their pages, he wrote, “A thin-boned, ancient-Egyptian type of face seems to predominate: narrow hips are general, and slender, non-prehensile hands like those of a lizard are quite universal.”

As for the inane copy that accompanied advertisements, he complained:

"Words like suave-mannered, custom-finished, contour-conforming, mitt-back, inner-sole, backdip, midriff, swoosh, swash, curvaceous, slenderize, and pet-smooth are flung about with evident full expectation that the reader will understand them at a glance. Here are a few sample sentences taken at random: 'A new Shimmer Sheen color that sets your hands and his head in a whirl.' 'Bared and beautifully bosomy.' 'Feathery-light Milliken Fleece to keep her kitten-snug!' 'Others see you through a veil of sheer beauty, and they wonder why!'"

In the rest of the column, he went on to discuss traffic fatalities.

13. He nearly drowned while writing Nineteen Eighty-Four.

One day in 1947 while taking a break from writing Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell took his son, niece, and nephew on a boating trip across the Gulf of Corryvreckan in western Scotland, which happens to be the site of the world's third-largest whirlpool. Unsurprisingly, their dinghy capsized when it was sucked into the whirlpool, hurling them all overboard. Fortunately, all four survived, and the book that later came to be called Nineteen Eighty-Four (originally named The Last Man in Europe) was finally published in 1949, just seven months before Orwell's death from tuberculosis.

This story has been updated for 2019.

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