Promoting passion in book collecting
We know and love Dr. Seuss for his children’s classics like The Cat in the Hat and Horton Hears a Hoo. But before he was Dr. Seuss, Theordor Geisel worked as an ad man, creating quirky, memorable advertising campaigns for Standard Oil Company and its subsidiaries.
Upon graduating from Oxford, Geisel took his first steady job at Judge, a New York City-based magazine. On January 14, 1928, his cartoon featured a medieval knight lying on a bed, facing a dragon that had invaded his room. The knight exclaims, “Darn it all, another dragon. And just after I’d sprayed the whole castle with Flit!” (Flit was a popular brand of insect repellant manufactured by Standard Oil.) The apocryphal tale goes that the wife of a Standard Oil executive saw the ad and urged her husband to hire the artist. The result: Geisel would originate a seventeen-year campaign for Flit, making “Quick Henry, the Flit!” a household phrase.
Geisel made enough money with advertising to support himself through the Great Depression, no small feat for an artist. Later, he would say of the experience that it “taught me conciseness and how to marry pictures with words.” His advertisements, often published under his pseudonym, also introduced the public to a very Seuss-ical menagerie. Geisel’s “moto-monsters” include the “Zerodoccus” and the “Karbo-noccus.”
In 1936, Geisel designed the Standard Oils Essomarine booth at the National Motorboat Show. He created the “Seuss Navy” for the event. Attendees of all ages were “commissioned” into the “Seuss Navy” as admirals and photographed with a cardboard “menagerie” of Dr. Seuss’s whimsical characters. By 1939, there are over 2,000 “admirals.”
The same year that Geisel launched the “Seuss Navy,” he also wrote his first children’s book, And to Think that I Saw it On Mulberry Street. The book was rejected 27 times before Vanguard finally published it in 1937. But it wouldn’t be until he published The Cat in the Hat that Geisel attained widespread claim in as a children’s book author and illustrator. The classic book was inspired by a 1954 article in Life magazine that criticized children’s literacy instruction, which still consisted almost entirely of illustrated “See Spot Run” style primers.
Here’s a selection of Dr. Seuss’s advertisements: