Geisel family circa 1905: Nettie with daughter Marnie and Ted with father Theodor. Photo from the collection of Peggy and Ted Owens.
Geisel family circa 1905: Nettie with daughter Marnie and Ted with father Theodor.
Photo from the collection of Peggy and Ted Owens.

Ted’s father, Theodor Robert Geisel, was born in 1879 in the home the family kept adjacent to the Kalmbach and Geisel breweries. He married Henrietta Seuss, Ted’s mother, in 1901.

Theodor Robert Geisel was a tall, straight-backed man with black hair and a mustache. Athletic and strong, he developed an interest in target shooting since Springfield was the leading gun manufacturer in the United States. He soon achieved a high level as an expert marksman, and in 1902 he held the world title at 200 yards.

Geisel with lion cubTed’s father later became Superintendent of Parks, which included running the Forest Park Zoo.

After his father, Ted’s grandfather, died in 1919, Theodor was appointed President of Springfield Breweries. But his position was short-lived; the Volstead Act made the sale of alcohol illegal in 1920, which doomed the brewery. In 1931, Ted’s father became the Superintendent of Parks for the city of Springfield. His job included running the Forest Park Zoo. While Ted was a boy, his father used to regularly bring him and his sister Marnie to Forest Park to walk the trails, fish, and visit the zoo. The park was just a few blocks from their home on Fairfield Street. Young Ted often brought along a sketch pad to draw; these visits may account for the incredible variety of animals later depicted in the books by Dr. Seuss.

Henrietta Seuss, Ted’s mother, was the daughter of Bavarian immigrants. At the age of 15, Nettie, as she was called, gave up her hope of attending college and began working in the family bakery. Her thwarted desire to go to college made her intent on making sure that Ted and his sister Marnie were able to acquire a higher education.

Ted’s mother would sing her children to sleep with the rhythmic chant that she used to sell pies: “Apple, mince, lemon… peach, apricot, pineapple… blueberry, coconut, custard and SQUASH!” Ted later said that his mother played an important role in developing his interest in rhythm, rhyme, and words.

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Dr. Seuss’s father ran the zoo in Springfield.

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