Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Before the Lorax

Soon after Ted Geisel (Class of 1925), aka Dr. Seuss, graduated from Dartmouth, he worked in the advertising business. Among the more prominent clients he worked for was Standard Oil. He created ad campaigns for several of Standard Oil's products including an insecticide, "Flit," made primarily of mineral oil used to kill mosquitoes, flies, and other insects. Liberal spraying around the yard was encouraged. Dr. Seuss also created advertisements for Ex-Tane, a petroleum based cleaner, and and engine oil, "Essolube."  Our collection contains advertisement work for all three products including this jigsaw puzzle, just recently acquired. It is part of "The Five Star Theater Foiled by Essolube: A Jig-Saw-Melodrama." It features a family driving away from a hoard of automotive monsters: the Zero-Doccus, the Karbo-Nockus, the Moto-Munchus, the Oilio-Gobelus, and the Moto-Raspus.

The advertisements show the evolution of Seuss's style, but they also force you to think about the evolution of his environmentalist ethic. In the late 1920s and 1930s, when these ads were created, petroleum products were hardly a concern to most Americans: they offered cheap fuel for progress. Only later, when the impact of pesticides, harsh chemical cleaners, and automobile exhaust became apparent, would these ads seem out of character. Seuss, of course, went on to create, The Lorax, a cautionary tale about the dangers of pollution brought on by mass consumerism and industry.

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