Discover Dr. Seuss’s Audacious Advertisements from the 1930s & 40s: All on Display in a Digital Archive

I well remember learning that Dr. Seuss’s real name was Theodor Geisel, mostly because I found Theodor Geisel was just as much fun to say as “Dr. Seuss.” Both names rolled around in the mouth, did somersaults and backflips off the tongue like the author’s multitude of strangely rubbery characters. With his Rube Goldberg machines, miniscule Whos, enormous Hortons, and mountains of comic absurdity, Seuss is like Swift for kids, his stories full of fantastic satire alongside much good clean common sense. Books like Horton Hears a Who and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas are chock full of “positive messages,” writes Amy Chyao at the Harvard Political Review, as well as trenchant social critique for five-year-olds.

Among the many lessons, “embracing diversity is perhaps the single most salient one embedded in many of Dr. Seuss’s books.” Geisel did not always espouse this value. There are those who read Horton’s refrain, “a person’s a person no matter how small,” as penance for work he did as a political cartoonist during World War II, when he drew what Jonathan Crow described in a previous post as “breathtakingly racist” depictions of the Japanese, promoting the bigotry that led to violence and the internment of Japanese Americans, an action he vigorously supported.




You can see many of his political cartoons at UC San Diego’s digital library, “Dr. Seuss Went to War.” UCSD also hosts an online archive of Geisel’s advertising work, which sustained him throughout much of the 30s and 40s, and not all of which has aged well either.

Geisel later expressed regret for his blanket anti-Japanese attitudes after a trip to Japan in 1953. And he later made several anti-racist cartoons against Jim Crow laws and anti-Semitism. These might have been meant to atone for more of his less well-known work, advertisements featuring crude, ugly stereotypes of Africans and Arabs.

You will find some of these ads in the USCD archive; Geisel did truck in some blatantly inflammatory images. But he mostly drew innocuous, yet visually exciting, cartoons like the one at the top, one of the dozens of ads he drew during a 17-year campaign for Flit, an insect repellant made by Standard Oil.

Geisel did ads for Standard Oil’s main product, promoting Essolube motor oil, further up, with the kind of creature that would later inhabit his children’s books. He got irreverently high concept with a GE ad set in hell, published explicitly under the pen name Dr. Theophrastus Seuss. And just above, in a brochure for the National Broadcasting Company, he introduces the visual aesthetic of Horton’s jungle, with a troupe of stereotypical grass-skirted Africans that might have come from one of Hergé’s offensive colonialist Tintin comics. (Both Seuss’s and Hergé’s early work are testaments to the common co-existence of progressive politics with often contemptuous or condescending treatment of nonwhite people in the early twentieth century.)

The Seuss advertisements archive shows us the artist’s development from visual puns and quirks to the fully-fledged mechanical surrealism of his mature style, as in the National Broadcasting Company brochure above, with its musical contraption the “Zimbaphone,” a precursor to the many cacophonous, overcomplicated instruments to come. It is when he is at his most inventive that Geisel is at his best. When he abandoned lazy, mean-spirited stereotypes, his work embraced a world of joyous possibility and weirdness.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Blitzscaling: A Free Stanford Course on Scaling a Startup, Led by LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman

A quick postscript to yesterday's mention of Reid Hoffman's new podcast, Masters of Scale. Many of the concepts discussed in Masters of Scale expand on a 2015 course taught at Stanford by Hoffman and his colleagues-- John Lilly from Greylock Partners, LinkedIn co-founder Allen Blue, and author Chris Yeh. The course focuses on Blitzscaling--or what Hoffman described in the Harvard Business Review as "the science and art of rapidly building out a company to serve a large and usually global market, with the goal of becoming the first mover at scale." And to help demystify that process, Hoffman invited guest speakers to class to break things down. Eric Schmidt on Structuring Teams and Scaling GoogleNetflix's Reed Hastings on Building a Streaming EmpireAirbnb's Brian Chesky on Launching Airbnb and the Challenges of Scale--they're among the experts featured in the course.

You can stream the 20 lectures from start to finish above, or find the playlist on Greylock Partner's YouTube channel. You can also find class notes for the course on Medium.

Blitzscaling will be added to our list of Free Online Business Courses, a subset of our collection, 1,250 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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LinkedIn Co-Founder Reid Hoffman Creates a New Podcast Offering Wisdom on Nurturing & Scaling New Businesses

How do you create and eventually scale a successful business? It's a complicated question. And you can do worse than get answers from Reid Hoffman. He's currently a partner at the venture capital firm Greylock Partners. But you probably know him best as the co-founder of LinkedIn, the professional social network site recently acquired by Microsoft for $26 billion dollars. In his new podcast, Masters of Scale, Hoffman looks at how companies grow from zero users to a gazillion by interviewing fellow Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who have crossed that bridge. Guests include Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg & Sheryl Sandberg, Netflix’s Reed Hastings, and Google’s Eric Schmidt, among others.

Even if you work in a business with more modest aspirations, there's some wisdom you can take away from these wide-ranging conversations. Hoffman's conversation with Airbnb's CEO Brian Chesky (above) about hand-crafting customer experiences would help you run almost any business. You can find the Masters of Scale podcast on iTunes, StitcherEntrepreneur.com, Spotify, and Google Play. Also find courses from other seasoned entrepreneurs right below.

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The Museum of Failure: A New Swedish Museum Showcases Harley-Davidson Perfume, Colgate Beef Lasagne, Google Glass & Other Failed Products

Here, in Silicon Valley, failure isn't always failure. At least according to the local mythology, it's something to be embraced, accepted, even celebrated. "Fail fast, fail often," they say. And eventually you'll learn enough to achieve real success.

On June 7th, the Museum of Failure will open in Helsingborg, Sweden. There you'll find the remains of failed innovation. Google Glass, the Sony Betamax, the Apple Newton, Nokia's N-gage--they're all there. Ditto a bottle of Harley-Davidson Perfume, Coca-Cola BlāK (aka coffee-flavored coke), and a Colgate Beef Lasagne TV Dinner. And, don't forget the Trump monopoly-style board game--part of a long line of failed Trump products and businesses.

Above, curator Samuel West highlights items in the collection. Bringing together over 60 failed products and services from around the world, the collection provides "unique insight into the risky business of innovation." You can get another glimpse of the new institution below. Fittingly, the museum is free.

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Montblanc Unveils a New Line of Miles Davis Pens … and (Kind of) Blue Ink


Got spare cash burning a hole in your pocket? An urge to commodify your favorite jazz artist? The need for an admittedly beautiful writing instrument? All of the above, you say? Good, because Montblanc recently unveiled a new line of Miles Davis pens. They've got the Miles Davis ballpoint pen, fountain pen, and roller pen. But surely the pièce de résistance is the Miles Davis Limited Edition 1926 Fountain Pen, which "tells the story of one of the greatest jazz personalities." "The surface of the cap and barrel is engraved with symbolic motifs that refer to the five major jazz periods he helped to create." What's more, "a star, set with a diamond, is engraved on the barrel, and Miles Davis’s famous album Kind of Blue is reflected in the blue color on the cone." Swank.

And what's a pen without ink? It's blue, of course. Get a close up view of that here.

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What It Cost to Shop at the Grocery Store in 1836, and What Goods You Could Buy

Click here to view the image in a larger format.

Like many children in possession of a toy cash register, I was a big fan of playing store.

A short stint working retail in a 90’s era Chicago hippie clothing emporium cured me of that for the most part.

But looking over the above page from Roswell C. Smith’s 1836 Practical and Mental Arithmetic on a New Plan, I must admit, I feel some of the old stirrings, and not because I love math, even when it’s intended to be worked on a slate.

Coffee, 35 cents per pound. A self-sharpening plough, $3.50. A whip, a buck fourteen. And a gallon of gin, 60 cents, which was "about two-thirds of a day's wages for the average non-farm white male worker." (View the prices in a larger format here.)

But I'm less intrigued by the wholesale price of the various items Smith's hypothetical country storekeeper would pay to stock his shelves in 1836, though I do love a bargain.

It’s more the type of goods listed on that inventory. They’re exactly the sort of items that figure in one of the most memorable chapters of Little House on the Prairie---Mr Edwards Meets Santa Claus.”

Okay, so maybe not exactly the same. Author Laura Ingalls Wilder was pretty explicit about the simple pleasures of her 1870s and 80s childhood. Her family’s bachelor neighbor, Mr. Edwards, risked life and limb fording a near-impassable, late-December creek, a bundle containing his clothes, a couple of tin cups, some peppermint sticks, and two heart-shaped cakes, tied to his head. Without his kindly initiative, their stockings would have been empty that year.

Presumably, the Independence, Kansas general store where Neighbor Edwards did his Christmas shopping would've stocked a lot of the same merch' that Smith alludes to in the above fragment of a bookkeeping-related story problem. Online bookseller John Ptak, on whose blog the page was originally reproduced, is keeping page 238 close to the vest (coincidentally the last item to be mentioned on the inventory, almost as an afterthought, just one, priced at 50¢.)

Childhood recollections aside, perhaps there was something else in Mr. Edward’s bundle, something the adult Laura chose not to mention. The sort of hostess gift that could've warmed Pa and Ma on those long, cold frontier nights…

Some gin, perhaps…or wine? Rum? Brandy?

Smith’s shopkeeper would’ve been well provisioned, laying the stuff in by the barrel, hogshead, and pipe-full.

As for that “bladder” of snuff, a post on the Snuffhouse forum suggests that it wasn’t a euphemism, but the actual bladder of a hog, paced with 4 pounds of snortin' tobacco.

Of course, Smith’s shopkeeper would’ve also carried a healthy assortment of wholesome goods- hymnals, children’s shoes, calico, satin, whips…

Perhaps we should do the math.

via Slate/JF Ptak

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday

Trainwreck: The Teach to One Math Experiment in Mountain View, CA Is a Cautionary Tale About the Perils of Digital Math Education

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Image via Wikimedia Commons

I live in Silicon Valley, which operates on the assumption that there's no problem that technology can't solve. It suffuses our culture here, and sometimes we pay the price for this technocratic utopianism. Case in point: Right now, I'm sending my kid to a public school in Mountain View, CA--the home of Google--where the administrators have upended the entire sixth grade math program. Last August, they abolished the traditional math program--you know, where students get to sit in a classroom and learn from a trained and qualified math teacher. And instead the administrators asked students to learn math mainly from a computer program called Teach to One. Run by a venture called New ClassroomsTeach to One promises to let each student engage in "personalized learning," where a computer program gauges each student's knowledge of math, then continually customizes the math education that students receive. It all sounds like a great concept. Bill Gates has supposedly called it the "Future of Math Education." But the rub is this: Teach to One doesn't seem ready for the present. And our kids are paying the price.

A new article featured in our local paper, The Mountain View Voice, outlines well the problems that students and parents have experienced with the Teach to One program. I would encourage any parent or educator interested in the pitfalls of these "innovative" math programs to give the article a good look. (Update: The Mountain View Voice has done a series of excellent articles on the Teach to One experiment in Mountain View and all that went wrong. They're all listed below.)

If you read the article, here's what you will learn. The Mountain View school district apparently budgeted $521,000 to implement and operate this new-fangled math program in two local schools (Graham and Crittenden Middle Schools). Had they adequately beta tested the program beforehand, the school district might have discovered that Teach to One teaches math--we have observed--in a disjointed, non-linear and often erratic fashion that leaves many students baffled and disenchanted with math. The program contains errors in the math it teaches. Parents end up having to teach kids math at home and make up for the program's deficiencies. And all the while, the math teachers get essentially relegated to "managing the [Teach to One] program rather than to providing direct instruction" themselves.

By October, many parents started to register individual complaints with the school district. By December, 180 parents signed a letter meticulously outlining the many problems they found with the Teach to One program. (You can read that letter here.) When the school later conducted a survey on Teach to One (review it here), 61% of the parents "said they do not believe the program matches the needs of their children," and test scores show that this crop of sixth graders has mastered math concepts less well than last year's. (Note: there was a big decrease in the number of kids who say they love math, and conversely a 413% increase in the number of kids who say they hate math.) Given the mediocre evaluation, the parents have asked for one simple thing--the option to let their kids learn math in a traditional setting for the remainder of the year, until it can be demonstrated that Teach to One can deliver better results. (Teach to One would ideally continue as a smaller pilot, where the kinks would get worked out.) So far the school district, headed by Ayindé Rudolph, has continued to champion the Teach to One program in finely-spun bureaucratic letters that effectively disregard parental concerns and actual data points. But the schools have now agreed to let students spend 5o% of their time learning math with Teach to One, and the other 50% learning math from a qualified teacher. Why the impractical half measure? I can only speculate.

I posted this so that interested parents and educators, wherever you live, can be prudent and thoughtful when it comes to adopting computer-driven math programs. Perhaps you can learn something from our cautionary tale. Do your research, run a controlled pilot, and make sure the product is actually a good fit for your school. Again, I would encourage you to read the fine article in The Mountain View Voice, the parents' letter outlining the observed deficiencies in the Teach to One program, and the eye-opening survey results on Teach to One.

Update: It was announced on January 12 that the Mountain View will discontinue the Teach to One math pilot effective immediately.  Patronizingly, New Classrooms has attributed the scrapping of the pilot to a communication problem. “There was a subset of parents of higher-achieving students who didn’t fully understand how Teach to One operated and how much it benefited their children,” Joel Rose is quoted as saying in The Wall Street Journal. Once again, I'd refer you back to the actual data collected by our schools. It speaks for itself.

Great Articles by The Mountain View Voice: Mountain View's local paper has done some excellent reporting on this fiasco. I would encourage you to read them all.

This story has also received coverage from The Wall Street Journal and Edsurge

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