New Archive Showcases Dr. Seuss’s Early Work as an Advertising Illustrator and Political Cartoonist

Most peo­ple know Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) as a writer and illus­tra­tor of some of the world’s most-beloved children’s books. And while it’s true that some of his char­ac­ters have not fared well since his death in 1991, his lega­cy as a play­ful moral­ist is secure with par­ents and teach­ers every­where. But few peo­ple know that Geisel got his start as a satirist and illus­tra­tor for adults, pub­lish­ing arti­cles and illus­tra­tions in Judge, Life, Van­i­ty Fair, and the Sat­ur­day Evening Post. He went on to promi­nence as an adver­tis­ing illus­tra­tor dur­ing the Depres­sion, most famous­ly with a 17-year cam­paign for a bug-repel­lant called Flit—made by Stan­dard Oil—whose slo­gan, “Quick, Hen­ry, the Flit!” became a pop­u­lar catch phrase in the 30s.

The Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, San Diego, has a spe­cial col­lec­tion of Geisel’s adver­tis­ing work from the 30s and 40s (such as the image above) for clients like Stan­dard, NBC, and Ford. The images show Geisel the illus­tra­tor devel­op­ing visu­al themes that char­ac­ter­ize his children’s books—the cir­cus imagery, ele­phants, daz­zling phys­i­cal stunts, wide-eyed, fur­ry crea­tures, com­plex Rube Gold­berg machines, and the sig­na­ture dis­em­bod­ied point­ing gloves. Dur­ing World War II, Geisel shift­ed his focus from adver­tis­ing to pol­i­tics and con­tributed week­ly car­toons to PM mag­a­zine, a lib­er­al pub­li­ca­tion. UCSD also has an online cat­a­log of Geisel’s polit­i­cal car­toons, such as the 1941 ad for U.S. Sav­ings Bonds below.


via Coudal

Josh Jones is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.

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