Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The True Geisel Family History


The history of Theodor Geisel or Dr. Seuss as he is more famously known is not unlike his art, an unexpected trip down a path that is not always linear, but full of unexpected twists and turns. The two biographies used to do research for this blog on Dr. Seuss contradict each other. In “The Seuss the whole Seuss and nothing but the Seuss” the author Charles D. Cohen tells the audience that Dr. Seuss’s great-great-great-grandparents married in Germany and then immigrated to America. (12) But in “The life and Work of Theodor Geisel” by Thomas Fensch it says the grandparents, both German immigrants, met and married in Springfield Massachusetts. (26) It may seem irrelevant and yet I think it is completely relevant and even telling to find out that even the biography’s of Theodor Seuss Geisel are contradictory. In all of the interviews that I have read in my search to know Dr. Seuss better, I have noticed a tendency by him to never give a straight answer when asked about his inspiration. He was asked repeatedly how he came up with the idea for “Horton Hears a Who”, and he never gave the same story twice. He would give a slightly different variation. Dr. Seuss loved to make up fake names and stories to lead the journalist down a road of his own imagination. It is fitting to find out that this complicated man would not allow a boring biography. He was not going to just give you a straight answer. And you cannot take anything you read at first glance for fact. You have to dig deeper, and take all the facts, lay them out and try to make a linear story. Even posthumously Dr. Seuss is making his audience use their imagination to find the truth.


To really know the man Theodor Seuss Geisel it helps to look at the history of the Geisel family. The story is an interesting one that can be traced all the way back to Germany in the 1600’s. The author of the book “The Seuss the whole Seuss and nothing but the Seuss”, Charles Cohen, says that Geisel’s distant grandparents came from the German territory of Baden, along the Enz River, in the town of Mülhausen. Joseph Geissel married Catharina Loth in 1650. Three generations later in Mülhausen, Gebhard Geisel decided to drop an “s” from his last name, and so the Geisel family had a new name. Shortly thereafter Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss’s paternal grandfather) married Christine Schmaelze and brought the Geisel family name from Germany to America. In 1876 Dr. Seuss’s grandfather made a career change, he had been a jeweler, but he and another man, an apprentice brewer named Christian Kalmbach purchased a brewing plant along Boston Road in Springfield, Massachusetts. The plant had a 1000-barrel-per year capacity; by 1884 the brewery had a capacity of 40,000 barrels per year. (12-13) The name of the brewery was the Kalmbach & Geisel Springfield Brewery Company. Per the author of the book “The Life and Work of Theodor Geisel” the brewery was known as the comeback and guzzle around town. (33) Geisel’s father had been working his way up the family business for 35 years, and was made the president of the entire company in January of 1920, but “Unfortunately, Prohibition began almost immediately afterward when, on January 16, 1920, the 18th Amendment became effective, prohibiting the manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors”(15). The Geisel family would have to find a new way to live. But prohibition was only one obstacle of many that the Geisel family would have to overcome in the coming century. The history of Geisel family shaped the man that would become the future Dr. Seuss.





Work Cited:

Cohen, Charles D. The Seuss The Whole Seuss and Nothing But The Seuss. New York. RandomHouse. 2004.
Fensch, Thomas. The Man Who Was Dr.Seuss. The Woodlands. New Century Books. 2000.

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