Theodor Geisel, Ted’s grandfather, was born in Muhlhausen, Germany in 1840. He became a jeweler's apprentice in Pforzheim at the age of 14 and trained for six years to learn the profession. He later served in the German cavalry during the war with Austria and in battles with Prussia.
Ted's grandparents came to America and established careers that made them well respected in the German community of Springfield. Ted's parents were born and raised in the city, which was a leading center of invention and manufacturing in New England.
At the age of 27, Grandfather Theodor Geisel left the Germany cavalry and sailed for America. He immediately joined family friends in Springfield, Massachusetts and began work as a jeweler in the city, developing a reputation for well-crafted brooches and pendants.
Four years after Grandfather Theodor Geisel arrived in America, he married Christine Schmaelzle in 1871. Her family had emigrated from the German state of Wurttemberg and settled in the Springfield area.
When an opportunity arose to buy a small brewery in 1876, Grandfather Geisel jumped at the chance. He quickly formed a partnership with Christian Kalmbach, who had learned the trade as a brewer's apprentice. They established the Kalmbach and Geisel brewery on Boston Road in Springfield, which was on the eastern edge of the developed city at that time. Due to its popularity, patrons soon dubbed it “Come Back and Guzzle.”
Ted’s father, Theodor Robert Geisel, was born in 1879 in the home the family kept adjacent to the Kalmbach and Geisel brewery. He was the fourth child out of seven born to Theodor and Christine Geisel, only five of which survived infancy. Theodor Robert grew up around the brewery and later became an employee.
Shortly after O.H. Greenleaf gave the first gift of land to the city of Springfield for the establishment of Forest Park, the philanthropist Everett Barney donated nearly three times that amount of land to expand the park's acreage. Barney was a wealthy Springfield entrepreneur who developed clamp-on ice skates that became popular across the country. Currently 736 acres, Forest Park is one of the largest municipal parks in the United States.
The brothers J. Frank and Charles E. Duryea designed and built America’s first gasoline powered automobile in a workshop on Taylor Street in downtown Springfield. On the evening of September 21, 1893, they took the first automobile trip in the U.S. on the streets of the city. Springfield quickly became a manufacturing center for early automobiles, and they were increasingly seen on the city's busy streets over the next few decades.
The success of the Geisel family brewery continued to grow, and in 1894 Kalmbach and Geisel incorporated as the Highland Brewing Company. At that time, it had become the largest brewery in New England and competed with Boston's best brewers. The business marketed 75,000 barrels a year of lager, ale and porter, which was distributed throughout Springfield and shipped by rail to much of New England and New York.
In 1899, the Highland Brewing Company merged with two other breweries in the city to form the Springfield Breweries Company. Grandfather Geisel continued to manage the Highland branch, while Ted's father Theodor Robert Geisel worked as assistant treasurer for the entire company. Springfield citizens saw the company's beer barrels delivered daily in black-and-gold wagons drawn by teams of four fine horses, which the former German cavalryman Geisel was especially proud of.
Ted's parents got married, started a family and moved to a larger house in Springfield after Ted was born. His father helped manage the family's growing brewery business while he served on the board of Forest Park. Ted attended primary school and began drawing the animals that he saw in the park zoo.
Theodor Robert Geisel married Henrietta (Nettie) Seuss, Ted’s mother, in 1901. The young couple lived with Nettie's parents on Howard Street while they prepared to start a family.
Leading American bicycle racer George Hendee and bicycle manufacturer Carl Oscar Hedstrom developed the first commercially successful motorcycle in America. Indian Motocycles (originally spelled without the letter R) were made at the Hendee Manufacturing Company at 713 State Street in Springfield from 1901 to 1953. The city's police department purchased its first motorcycles in 1909, which included the brightly painted red Indians. The motorcycle squad was essential to traffic control, maneuvering easily through streets that teemed with horses, trolleys, and automobiles.
Springfield was the leading gun manufacturer in the United States, home to the country's first Armory as well as the Smith & Wesson factory. Target shooting became a popular pastime across the country, and Ted's father trained daily to achieve a high level as an expert marksman. In 1902, he held the world title at 200 yards. Ted's father taught him about the importance of striving for perfection, which was a lesson that stayed with Ted throughout his life.
Margaretha Christine Geisel was the first child born to Theodor Robert Geisel and Henrietta (Nettie) Seuss Geisel. She was named after Nettie's mother, Margaretha Greim, and Theodor's mother, Christine Schmaelzle, but the family affectionately called her Marnie.
Theodor Seuss Geisel was born on March 2, 1904 at the family home on Howard Street in Springfield’s South End, where his mother’s parents had a house and bakery. Ted was the second child born to Theodor Robert and Nettie Geisel.
Two years after Ted was born, the growing Geisel family moved into a three story house in the Forest Park neighborhood of Springfield. Ted lived there, at 74 Fairfield Street, with his parents and older sister until he left Springfield to go to college. As a young boy, Ted played with toy soldiers on the front porch and his three-legged bulldog Rex in the yard. He loved to dress up in costumes that were kept in large wardrobe chests in the third floor walk-in attic. On the wall of his sister's bedroom, young Ted drew a mural filled with his uniquely strange and humorous animals.
Ted’s youngest sister, Henrietta, was born in 1906 and named after their mother. She was the third and final child born to Theodor Robert Geisel and Henrietta (Nettie) Seuss Geisel.
Tragically, the Ted's younger sister Henrietta died of pneumonia at just eighteen months old. Ted was not yet four at the time, but the image of his infant sister’s tiny casket in the music room of their home was a memory that stayed with him his entire life.
At the age of four and a half, Ted entered Kindergarten at Forest Park School in the fall of 1908. The school was located just a street away from the family house. He also attended Sumner Avenue School, situated a bit farther down one of Springfield's busy main boulevards. His older sister Marnie was instructed to hold Ted's hand as they crossed the busy street filled with early automobiles, trollies, and horse-drawn wagons.
In 1909, Ted's father was appointed to serve on the Springfield park board. He held this honorary position until two decades later when he became Superintendent of Parks. When Ted was young, his father took frequent trips to the park and its zoo, often bringing his son with him on Sundays and holidays for behind-the-scenes tours. Young Ted brought along a pencil and sketch pad to draw the animals, and he enjoyed combining their features to create strange new creatures. This may account for the incredible variety of animals later depicted in the books by Dr. Seuss.
While growing up on Fairfield Street, Ted and his family regularly visited Forest Park, where Springfield families fished, picnicked and swam in the summer and went sledding and ice-skating in the winter. During this period, Ted and his sister Marnie dealt with prejudice directed at German-Americans as a result of World War I. In 1917, he entered high school and immersed himself in working on the school newspaper, joining clubs and becoming active in other extracurricular activities.
In the fall of 1917, Ted entered Central High School, located in close proximity to Mulberry Street.
Former President Theodore Roosevelt publicly embarrassed Ted during an awards ceremony at Springfield Municipal Auditorium, an incident Ted later recalled as having contributed to his fear of public speaking.
Springfield celebrated the ending of World War I with parades and streetcars strung with flags. Ted was a sophomore in high school at the time.
At Central High School (later renamed Classical High), Ted enjoyed many extra-curricular activities and began submitting work to the school’s newspaper, The Central Recorder. His first published piece was a parody of Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” (1865) called “O Latin,” which appeared in the February 7, 1919 issue of The Recorder. Ted was 14 when he wrote this clever piece about the difficulty and dread of Latin class, and it demonstrates his witty skill with rhythm and words.
Grandfather Geisel died late in 1919, leaving Ted's father to become president of the Springfield Breweries.
Ted’s interest in writing and drawing grew during his last years of high school and continued after he entered Dartmouth College. Ted became the editor of college humor magazine and was known for his clever cartoons and witticisms. After studying at Oxford, Ted returned to Springfield and sold his first cartoon to The Saturday Evening Post. Buoyed up by his success, Ted went to New York City, married Helen Palmer and started his career in advertising.
During high school in early 1920, Ted first began using a pseudonym that would carry into his professional career. He signed the satire “A Pupil’s Nightmare,” which appeared in The Recorder on January 21, 1920 under the name 'T. S. LeSieg' – a pen name later used for all published children’s books that Ted wrote but did not illustrate. Young Ted wasn’t the first in his family to sign as LeSieg (which is 'Geisel' spelled backwards). To appease Ted's mother, his father used 'LeSieg' when placing bets on the numbers game, in the event that he won and his name was announced publicly. This playful use of language must have appealed to Ted's love of witty and interesting names.
Ted’s love of the theater led him to perform and write his own theatrical works during his high school years. To help fund the traditional senior class trip to Washington D.C., the seventeen-year-old Ted wrote and staged a one-act comedy titled “Chicopee Surprised” in the Central High School auditorium on April 29, 1921.
In the senior yearbook for 1920/1921, Ted’s fellow classmates voted him both Class Artist and Class Wit. The early works that Ted produced in high school certainly suggest how he would have earned these titles. Educator Edwin “Red” Smith, who taught at Central High School and was a graduate of Dartmouth College, recognized Ted’s talent and was the first teacher to make Ted consider writing as a career. After graduating from Springfield's Central High School in the spring of 1921, Ted went on to attend nearby Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, where he continued to develop his writing and artistic skills.
After graduating from Dartmouth College, Ted spent two weeks in the summer of 1925 working for the Springfield Union newspaper in his hometown. He earned some money towards his Oxford education by writing witty verses and responding to headlines while filling in for a vacationing columnist.
After Dartmouth, Ted spent two years studying at Oxford University and traveling Europe before returning to Springfield in 1927. He set up his drawing board and typewriter on his father’s desk at 74 Fairfield Street and began creating humorous pieces and cartoons, sending them in packets to New York editors in hopes of landing a job. Finally, in June of 1927, Ted received word that The Saturday Evening Post had purchased one his creations, a cartoon of two American tourists riding a camel. It appeared in the publication on July 16, 1927 and was signed with the name “Seuss.” Excited to launch his professional career, Ted took the twenty-five dollar check and moved from Springfield to New York.
While Ted was visiting in Springfield for the holidays, Ted’s beloved mother became ill and later passed away. Ted broke into book publishing and he and his wife Helen traveled extensively to different countries around the world. After being rejected by 27 publishing houses, his book And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street was published. In addition to writing and illustrating children’s books, Ted created a series of multi-media sculptures that he called 'Unorthodox Taxidermy' which incorporated parts of animals that his father had brought home from the Forest Park Zoo.
You can learn more about Ted Geisel's professional career and life at seussville.com.
This reprint of a British collection of children’s sayings was enhanced by Ted’s pen-and-ink drawings.
Ted's mother Nettie died at the age of 52 from an inoperable brain tumor. Ted, who had just turned 27 at the time, was terribly upset by this loss. He returned to Springfield for her funeral at Oak Grove Cemetery. Ted fondly remembered his mother's playful spirit and credited her with helping to develop his interest in rhythm, rhyme, and words.
Ted’s father became Forest Park Superintendent in 1931 after 22 years serving on the Springfield Park Board in an honorific role. As Park Superintendent, Ted's dad oversaw the park system which included the Forest Park Zoo, where he had frequently taken Ted for tours and sketching trips in his youth. Ted's father held this full time salaried job for thirty years until his retirement in 1961.
In 1934, Ted began creating a series of mixed media sculptures he called "Unorthodox Taxidermy," which incorporated real animal parts such as beaks, antlers and horns from deceased animals that his father brought home from the Forest Park Zoo. Ted named one of the first sculptures "The Mulberry Street Unicorn," which is an early reference to the Springfield street that Ted made famous in his first children’s book, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street.
The first children's book by Dr. Seuss, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was inspired by Ted’s childhood memories of Springfield, MA. It was published in 1937 after 27 other publishers had rejected it.
When And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street was first sold in stores, Springfield citizens queued outside the popular Johnson’s Book Store in Court Square to discover if it was a gossip story about residents of the city. Much to their relief, it was not! One citizen told a reporter of The Springfield Union that the book would make their street famous, and its legacy as the first children’s book by Dr. Seuss has certainly done that.
Ted claimed that the book was inspired by a stranger wearing a hat who Ted sat behind on a train journey from Springfield to New York City.
This book, written for an adult audience, did not generate significant book sales. However, it later gained popularity as Seuss himself grew in fame, and was republished in 1987.
Some of the illustrations in the book appear to have been influenced by the buildings and public monuments in Springfield that Ted saw as a boy. See if you can match other Seuss illustrations to photos of Springfield's past.
Ted Geisel’s book Horton Hatches the Egg was an immediate success, but Ted became increasingly concerned about the war in Europe and shifted from writing children’s books to drawing political cartoons. Ted accepted an army commission with Frank Capra’s Signal Corps and worked on animated cartoons and films with training messages. Ted’s older sister Marnie died at age 43 in Springfield. After the war, he returned to writing children’s books and the publication of his books, McElligot’s Pool, Thidwick, the Big-Hearted Moose and Bartholomew and the Oobleck increased his popularity and fame.
You can learn more about Ted Geisel's professional career and life at seussville.com.
The engaging story about an elephant up in a tree was enthusiastically received and, as a result of the book’s success, Ted resolved to become a children’s book author.
In response to his growing concern about the war in Europe and Hitler’s rise to power, Ted turns his attention from writing children’s books to producing more than 400 political cartoons.
Following the entrance of the United States into World War II, the Treasury Department and the War Production Board commissioned Ted to create war bond posters.
As a Captain, he serves as commander of the Animation Department of the First Motion Picture Unit of the Army Air Force.
His work included Your Job in Germany, a 1945 propaganda film about peace in Europe after World War II; Our Job in Japan, and the Private Snafu series of army training films.
In 1945, Ted’s older sister passed away in Springfield from a coronary thrombosis, and was laid to rest near her mother in Oak Grove Cemetery.
Geisel is awarded Best Documentary Feature for the film Design for Death, a study of Japanese culture. Based on a shorter U.S. Army training film, it was co-authored by Ted's wife Helen Palmer Geisel. In its review, Daily Variety characterized it as, "a documentary of fabulous proportions ... one of the most interesting screen presentations of the year".
When Ted first published McElligot's Pool in 1947, he dedicated the book to his father and memories of fishing trips as a young boy. It had always been a Geisel family joke that whenever they were unsuccessful in catching fish, they would buy trout from the Deegel Hatchery in Springfield and pretend that they had caught them. The book was wittily dedicated to his dad, “the World’s Greatest Authority on Blackfish, Fiddler Crabs and Deegel Trout.”
The story’s main character is a young boy named Marco, who also appeared in Dr. Seuss’s first children’s book, And To think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, which, from much evidence, seems largely inspired by his childhood memories of Springfield, MA.
In this book, Ted taught the importance of self-respect through a story about a kind-hearted moose who is taken advantage of by unwanted guests who take up residence in his antlers.
This book follows the adventures of a young boy named Bartholomew, who must rescue his kingdom from a sticky substance called Oobleck
Ted’s book If I Ran the Zoo and his Hollywood feature film The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T contained references his childhood in Springfield. When challenged to write a book that first-graders can’t put down using only 225 words, Ted wrote The Cat in the Hat. The success of The Cat in the Hat launched the Beginner Book Series designed to help children learn how to read.
Dr. Seuss's story If I Ran the Zoo, published in 1950, is an imaginative children’s story where the young narrator Gerald McGrew creates a new zoo filled with fantastically strange creatures.
Given Ted’s close connection to zoo animals in his youth, this story is most probably rooted in Ted’s childhood memories of trips to the Forest Park Zoo with his father, who eventually became Superintendent of Parks and actually ran the zoo. Ted noted that he also wrote the story in memory of his mother, who had been inspired by the idea of a story about the zoo.
In this story, a boy named Peter T. Hooper makes scrambled eggs from the eggs of exotic birds. Ted’s fascination with unusual animals could be traced to his childhood explorations of the Forest Park Zoo.
This musical fantasy film is the only feature film written by Ted, who was responsible for the story, screenplay and lyrics. The central character is a boy named Bart Collins whose hatred of piano lessons might have been derived from Ted’s own experiences taking piano lessons in a building near Court Square in Springfield. Though not successful upon its original release, it has achieved a cult following over the years.
In this book, Horton the elephant returns to protect the tiny community of Whoville, where microscopic creatures called Whos live. Throughout the book Horton proclaims, “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”
For this book, Ted concocted new Seussian words and invented a twenty-letter alphabet so they could be spelled.
Ted’s rhyming picture book about the big circus dreams of young Morris McGurk might have drawn upon boyhood memories. In Springfield, the arrival of the circus in town was heralded by festive parades down Main Street.
Ted wrote this book in response to a challenge that he write a book that first-graders can’t put down using only 225 words. The impressive sales of the book helped to launch the Beginner Book series which were designed to combat the growing problem of literacy in America by helping children learn how to read.
Written to reflect Ted’s views on the commercialism of Christmas, The Grinch has become a holiday standard.
A playful follow up to The Cat in the Hat.
Ted’s fanciful illustrations of the characters of Yertle and Gertrude McFuzz might have been inspired by a well-known turtle fountain that he saw in Stearns Square as a boy and the colorful peacocks that were attractions at the Forest Park Zoo.
Written using only 50 words, Green Eggs and Ham became Ted’s best-selling book. After 30 years of marriage to Ted, Helen Palmer Geisel died and Ted married Audrey Stone, a long-time family friend. Ted’s father retired from his 30-year tenure as Superintendent of Parks. Ted and Audrey paid their final visit to his father.
One of his most well-loved Beginner Books, Ted’s increased interest in phonics is evident throughout the text.
Using only 50 words, Ted’s quirky tale about Sam-I-am became his one of his most popular books. Ted once said that Green Eggs and Ham was the only book he had written that always made him laugh.
Ted's father resigned as Superintendent of Parks at the age of 82. He fulfilled 52 years of city service, which included 30 years as Park Superintendent.
It is possible that the book’s theme of intolerance was rooted in Ted’s childhood memories of being discriminated against as a German-American boy during World War I, as well as an embarrassing incident when Ted was not awarded a star medal by former President Theodore Roosevelt for his efforts selling war bonds as a boy scout.
One of the Beginner Book series, this book was adapted as a pop-up book and a rhyming work book.
An accomplished writer in her own right, Ted's wife worked closely with him on his books and he relied heavily on her advice and skill.
Leagrey Dimond and Lark Grey Dimond-Cates became his step-daughters. Dimond-Cates would go on to help create the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden in Ted's honor.
Theodor Robert Geisel passes away at the age of 89 in Springfield.
Ted’s book The Lorax contained an important message about saving the environment. Some of the illustrations in the book are believed to be inspired by the factories he saw growing up in Springfield and his memories of the flowering dogwood trees in Forest Park. Ted and Audrey attended his 50th Reunion at Dartmouth which included a retrospective of his work. After struggling with glaucoma, Ted wrote the book I Can Read with My Eyes Shut!
Ted’s story about incorporated a message about the importance of saving the environment and preserving natural resources. The illustrations of factories which appear in the book are similar to the industrial buildings that Ted saw in Springfield and it is believed that the Truffula trees are based on the flowering dogwood trees in Forest Park.
Ted and Audrey attended the reunion at Dartmouth College, where a retrospective exhibition of his work was mounted in the Baker Library.
Ted dedicated this book to his ophthalmologist. During the 1970s, he experienced problems with his vision and underwent treatment for glaucoma.
Ted’s The Butter Battle Book was published on his 80th birthday. Although he faced health issues, Ted’s spirits were bolstered when he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for “his contribution of over nearly half a century to the education and enjoyment of America’s children and their parents.” Ted visited Springfield for the first time since his father died 20 years earlier. During the visit, he wiped away tears as throngs of Springfield children called out, “We love you, Dr. Seuss.”
This cautionary tale about the perils of the nuclear arms race aroused public opinion and controversy, but also made the best-seller lists.
Dr. Seuss is recognized for “his contribution of over nearly half a century to the education and enjoyment of America’s children and their parents,” which brought him to new heights of fame and celebrity.
In 1986 the Springfield Library, in conjunction with the Springfield Public Schools, launched Seussamania, a celebration of the wonderful creativity of Dr. Seuss. This was probably the first major recognition of the fact that Theodor Seuss Geisel had not only been born and raised in Springfield, but that much of his imaginative material was inspired by his hometown. For the grand finale of this event Dr. Seuss agreed to visit. The shy octogenarian who greeted fans on Mulberry Street had come a long way from the young man who left his Fairfield Street home. It was to be his last visit.
Ted’s health worsened and he wrote his final book Oh, The Places You’ll Go! which became a publishing phenomenon and was on The New York Times best-seller list for more than two years. His health continued to decline and he passed away on September 24, 1991 at the age of 87. Soon after his death was reported, Dr. Seuss became front-page news in newspapers across America. Plans to create a Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden were initiated in his hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts.
The final Seuss book published before Ted passed away. Enduringly popular, the book sells about 300,000 copies every year because so many people give it to college and high school graduates.
Soon after Ted’s death was reported on the morning of September 25, 1991, Dr. Seuss became front-page news in hundreds of newspapers across America and in cities abroad. A commemorative paper published by the Springfield Union News reflected the outpouring of sadness from Springfield residents to his passing.
The Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden opened to the public in 2002. Created by Ted’s step-daughter and noted artist Lark Grey Dimond-Cates, the Sculpture Garden is located on the beautifully-landscaped grounds of the Springfield Museums. Ted’s books continue to be popular with new generations of children adding to his growing stature as an icon of children’s literature.
The Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden opened to the public in the spring of 2002 on the grounds of the Springfield Museums. These larger than life bronze sculptures of Ted Geisel and his characters were created by his step daughter, Lark Grey Dimond-Cates.