The Vintage Ads Of Dr. Seuss

25 Oct

The Vintage Ads Of Dr. Seuss

Before Dr. Seuss gained worldwide fame as a beloved author and illustrator of children’s books, he paid the bills with advertising gigs and magazine artwork.  In fact, Theodore Seuss Geisel landed his first paying job after leaving Oxford with the New York City publication Judge.

In the 1920s, Seuss embarked on a career as an advertising illustrator, a job that garnered him national exposure and a better paycheck.  A series of cartoons for Flit bug spray kicked open the door for Seuss.  One illustration shows three guys in a tank as an oversized mosquito jettisons toward them.  In large yellow words it reads: “Quick Henry, The Flit!”


Seuss would end up doing a whole series of ads for Flit, and moved on to design campaigns for iconic American companies like Ford and NBC, and General Electric. His ads spanned the realm of products, from ball bearings, to cars, oil and sugar.

Another Flit ad, black-and-white, shows Seuss’ dark sense of humor. This one shows a forlorn and defeated looking bug, wings sagging and antennae mangled.  It appears to have facial stubble and sunken eyes that glance lethargically at the viewer.  The made-up species has rigged a can of Flit spray with a string, ready to take its own life.  The title reads simply: “The suicide.”


In 1949 Seuss started penning ad campaigns for Ford Motor Company.  The ads were simple, but showed glimpses of characters that would show up in many of Dr. Seuss’ books.


But Dr. Seuss’ most notable run in the advertising realm came from his 15 years of work designing ads for Standard Oil.  His illustrations showed a beauty and depth that still captures the imagination of viewers today.

The color ads featured Dr. Seuss’ flair for making up monsters, such as the “Karbo-nockus” and “Moto-raspus,” a cat-like creature with exceedingly long arms that tinker with an engine while the stunned driver stares with bulging eyes.  Another ad features the “Zerodoccus,” a creature resembling the abominable snowman.  This character blows a sheet of ice over a car while another stunned driver sits behind the wheel, shocked and helpless. Below the illustration it reads: “Next time, use Essolube, the only 5-star motor oil.”


Much of Seuss’ black and white work for Standard Oil had a seafaring vibe, featuring boats and strange pieces of imagined machinery for the company’s line of marine engine oil.   One such ad features the “carbonic walrus.”  This illustration shows a confident, smiling walrus as it lurches from the water and pummels a boat.  The captain, clings to a flagpole, which bends comically, like a piece of rubber.  The waves in this image come up in sharp points, as if the ocean is some kind of mountain range.

In another stunning ad, an ugly mermaid lured sailors with a sign for Essomarine engine oil.  The illustration is black and white, with splashes of red.   The mermaid is holding an Essomarine sign, which attracts the boaters, steaming toward the siren in red boats on an expanse of gray ocean.  Behind the homely mermaid, two of Suess’ famed cartoon fish can be spotted pointing toward the emerging ships. One of the fish is saying: “Annabella may not be such a hot looking siren…But she sure does know how to lure the sailors!”


Dr. Seuss’ full-color ads for Holly Sugar are among his most vibrant and striking illustrations.  The ads are simple and feature much less wording than those done for Standard Oil, NBC or now-defunct communications company Stromburg Carlson.  The theme was simple for Holly Sugar.  Nearly every ad featured the same six words: “All it needs is…Holly Sugar.”


One such ad features a Seuss creature that looks like a cross between a yak and a cow.  The freaked out animal looks both sad and repulsed by the green apple offered by a young boy with spiky blond hair.  Both characters appear before a bright red backdrop. To the right, is a bag of Holly Sugar.

In another ad, a creature resembling a mounted moose head, sulks before a birthday cake, staring somberly at the offering.  Below, a young child looks up, bewildered by the creature’s reluctance to eat the cake.  The main characters and the cake are illustrated over a lime green backdrop.  Above them it reads: “All it needs is…Holly Sugar.”  As usual, the bag of sugar is featured in the right.

Although Dr. Seuss is best known for his work as an author, his advertising brought imagination and artistry to the industry.  He carried every day products into the realm of fantasy, making even a bag of sugar or a can of bug spray seem like something out of a fairy tale or cartoon world.  Simple products would all of a sudden come alive due to Seuss’ keen development of magical realism.

Dr. Seuss went on to compose children’s books, television specials, a feature-length film, dr seuss lesson plans for teachers and even a Broadway musical.  His children’s books have been translated into at least 15 languages and his ended up in the homes of well over 200-million people.  Throughout his career, Seuss won two Academy awards, a Pulitzer Prize, a Peabody and two Emmy awards and

The world however, may never know how many cans of Flit or Standard Oil were sold as a result of Seuss’ ads.  There’s no record of how many Americans were inspired to purchase a Ford or buy a bag of sugar based on his artwork.  But there’s no doubt his work in advertising will be admired by many generations to come.

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One Response to “The Vintage Ads Of Dr. Seuss”


  1. Organizing books | Labels for Life - February 3, 2011

    […] The Vintage Ads Of Dr. Seuss ( […]

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