Dr. Seuss and Dr. Suess

Dr. Eduard Suess (1831-1914)

Dr. Eduard Suess (1831-1914)

It seems unlikely that Dr. Seuss, the beloved author of children’s books, and Dr. Suess, the beloved Austrian geologist, ever met.  That is speculation on my part, but since the scientist who published Das Antlitz der Erde died when the Cat In The Hat writer was only ten years old, I feel like it’s a reasonable assumption.

The guy who was the expert on the Alps had a son who was also a geologist and professor, but there’s no evidence that this second Dr. Suess had any contact with the Dr. Seuss who created the Grinch.  By the way, the children’s book writer and illustrator had no children of his own.

His real name was Theodor Geisel, and I thought maybe he had borrowed the geologist’s name, making a slight alteration in the spelling.  As so often happens, I was wrong.  Seuss was his mother’s maiden name, and his middle name.  Oh, and the family pronunciation of the name rhymed with “voice”, not “goose”.

While a student at Dartmouth, Ted Geisel worked on the school’s humor magazine.  He and several of his pals got caught drinking gin, and since this was the mid-1920s, they were breaking the law — Prohibition was in effect.

As punishment, a dean booted them out of all extracurricular activities.  Geisel continued to contribute cartoons to the humor magazine, though, using pseudonyms like L. Burbank, D.G. Rossetti… and Seuss.  The Doctor part was added later on.

His first children’s book was And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, which made it to print in 1937 after being rejected by dozens of publishing companies.

Following a stint as a political cartoonist during World War II, Geisel returned to writing children’s books.  Scholars point out that there was political content in some of them, too.  For instance, “Horton Hears a Who!” was an allegory for democratization in post-war Japan, as any five-year-old can tell you.

Dr. Seuss had 46 children’s books published; so far they have sold over a half-billion (with a B) copies.

Dr. Suess was not quite as successful.  The Austrian’s masterwork, which translates into English as The Face of the Earth, is a massive multi-volume work that deals with the geologic structure of our planet.  In the early 20th century it was considered a textbook, but copies of The Face of the Earth are now repositories for much of the earth’s dust.

In 1857 Dr. Suess published a slender book called Die Enstehung der Alpen (“The Origin of the Alps”).  The movie rights remain unsold, but Eduard Suess’s theories established the concept of tectonics, which has to do with movements of the earth’s crust.

This Dr. Suess (the U-before-E one) had a grandson named Hans, who became the third Dr. Suess.  A chemist and nuclear physicist, Hans Suess was one of the founding faculty members of University of California, San Diego.  His personal papers are housed at UCSD’s Geisel Library, which is named for one of its major donors, Theodor Geisel — yeah, Dr. Seuss.

If you aren’t confused yet, consider the fact that there is a German physicist named Theo Geisel (no relation).  I was able to learn that Dr. Geisel is also a musician, but couldn’t determine if he likes Green Eggs and Ham.

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4 responses to “Dr. Seuss and Dr. Suess

  1. Dr. Seuss has so many classic lines. One of my favorites:
    “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
    Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
    ― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

    I love this quote, too:
    “Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.”
    ― Dr. Seuss

    Thanks for a fun post!

    • Dr. Seuss is also responsible for the first appearance of the word “nerd” in print. In 1950, it appeared in his book “If I Ran the Zoo”.

  2. Stephen E. Suess

    Hi,
    My father was Dr. Hans Suess and I grew up in La Jolla – where UCSD now is. Dr. Seuss lived in La Jolla as well and the we first arrived we used to get some of his fan mail. I was a little boy, maybe six or so, when my mother decided that we should go visit Dr. Seuss and bring him his fan mail. He lived up on Mt. Soledad. We rang the doorbell and a woman came out and was rather suspicious of who we were, but when she saw the fan mail for Mr. Geisel and realized that my mother the wife of a real Dr. Suess, she closed the door and asked us to wait. After some time a rather grumpy man came to the door, did not pay any attention to me at all and accepted his fan mail. He and my mom had a brief talk about how his fan mail was getting confused and he suggested one of us should change out name. My mother said, “yeah, who?” (Of course she knew his was not his real name). At this point he closed the door. Frankly I found him frightening and hid behind my mothers leg while he was there. Ever since I realized where his mean and nasty characters came from… from him! And really, aren’t most of his character kind of grumpy… like him?
    Cheers,
    Stephen Eduard Suess

    • Great story! And good for your mother for her response to Ted Geisel. Now that you mention it, a lot of the Dr. Seuss books do have grumpy characters, and maybe he was working out some issues in his books — who knows? Thanks very much for sharing your experience here.

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