Parents

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 Forest Park, including the 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. Ted’s father was forced to change careers and he later became Superintendent of Forest Park, including the zoo. His frequent behind-the-scenes tours of the zoo with young Ted, who brought along a sketch pad to draw, 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. Nettie, as she was called, was a very large woman standing almost six feet tall and weighing nearly 200 pounds. At the age of 15 she 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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