35 Surprising Facts About Dr. Seuss

Al Ravenna, Library of Congress New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Al Ravenna, Library of Congress New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Bennett Cerf, the co-founder of publishing giant Random House, used to say that of all the authors who had ever written for his esteemed company—a list that included William Faulkner, Eugene O’Neill, and Sinclair Lews—there was only one "genius." "His name," Cerf declared, "is Ted Geisel."

A native of Springfield, Massachusetts, Theodor Seuss Geisel—who you probably know better by his pen name, Doctor Seuss—was born on March 2, 1904. To celebrate his birthday, we’ve rounded up some amazing facts about Geisel’s life, his art, and his unforgettable characters.

1. Theodor Geisel's father worked with beer. And zoo animals.

Postcard shows people feeding the ducks at Forest Park
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Seuss’s dad had an interesting career path. Born in 1879, Theodor Robert Geisel was a brewmaster and a competitive marksman of international renown. When Prohibition went into effect in 1920, Geisel entered a new line of work and became the superintendent of Forest Park in Springfield, Massachusetts. Among his responsibilities, the elder Geisel oversaw the park’s onsite zoo. “That zoo,” his famous son later remarked, “is where I learned whatever I know about animals.”

2. Teddy Roosevelt scarred Geisel for life.

President Theodore 'Teddy' Roosevelt salutes a crowd during a public appearance
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Geisel was a Boy Scout, and in this capacity he sold U.S. war bonds. Since he was one of the 10 best bond sellers in his Boy Scout troop, he and his entire family were invited to attend a special ceremony that was held on May 2, 1918. There, Geisel was going to receive a medal from former president Theodore Roosevelt. But the event organizers accidentally gave Teddy nine medals instead of 10 ... and Roosevelt’s supply ran out right before Geisel (who’d been sitting on stage with the other boys) was supposed to receive his.

Not realizing that he had been shorted one medal, Roosevelt looked at Geisel and asked “What is this little boy doing here?” Rather than explain that there had been a mix-up, a Scoutmaster instead whisked a humiliated Geisel off the stage. Geisel attributed his lifelong fear of public speaking to this embarrassing incident.

3. Dr. Seuss dabbled in taxidermy.

Geisel created weird, sculpted busts of fictional beasts—like the Mulberry Street unicorn and a “carbonic walrus”—out of body parts from exotic animals that had passed away at his father’s zoo. He called it “Unorthodox Taxidermy.”

4. “Seuss” was originally pronounced “Soice.”

American author and illustrator Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel, 1904 - 1991), works on illustrations for one of his children's books at his desk at home in La Jolla, California, April 1957
Ted Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, works at his desk at home in La Jolla, California in 1957.
Gene Lester/Getty Images

The “Dr. Seuss” alias evolved from a pseudonym that Geisel came up with at Dartmouth College, his undergraduate alma mater. Not coincidentally, Seuss was also the maiden name of Geisel's mother, Henrietta. In its traditional pronunciation, Seuss rhymes with voice. But as the author’s fame grew, people started mispronouncing it.

Geisel’s friend, Alexander Liang, responded by writing a poem: “You’re wrong as the deuce / And you shouldn’t rejoice / If you’re calling him Seuss / He pronounces it Soice.”

5. One of Ted Geisel’s other aliases came from an unlikely source.

At Dartmouth, Geisel once signed a cartoon as “Thomas Mott Osborne.” Who was that? The real-life warden of the Sing Sing prison in New York.

6. Ted Geisel was an Oxford dropout.

Skyline view of Oxford University's Radcliffe Camera
Oxford University's Radcliffe Camera.
Aashish Sapkota/iStock via Getty Images

Fresh out of Dartmouth, Geisel enrolled at the University of Oxford with the hopes of earning a Ph.D. in English Literature. It was while he was at Oxford that he met his first wife, Helen Marion Palmer, an Oxford classmate who noticed that he liked to doodle while their professors lectured. “Ted’s notebooks were always filled with these fabulous animals,” she said. “So I set to work diverting him; here was a man who could draw such pictures; he should be earning a living doing that.” Geisel didn't stick around though; he left Oxford in 1927.

7. Ted Geisel named a major character in his first book after his editor's son.

The cover of 'And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street,' Doctor Seuss's first published children's book
Random House via Amazon

Geisel’s debut children’s book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was released in 1937. Editor Marshall "Mike" McClintock at Vanguard Press accepted the manuscript after anywhere from 20 to 43 other publishers rejected it. (Geisel’s accounts of his many rejections don’t provide us with a consistent number.) McClintock knew the budding children's author from their days at Dartmouth. Geisel, to show his gratitude, named the book’s main character after McClintock's son, Marco.

8. Being around kids could make Ted Geisel uncomfortable.

Children read from 'The Cat in the Hat' at a ceremony honoring Dr. Seuss's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Children read from 'The Cat in the Hat' at a ceremony honoring Dr. Seuss's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Vince Bucci/Getty Images

“You have ‘em, I’ll entertain them,” Geisel used to say about children. The storyteller never had any biological children and sometimes found himself at a loss in the presence of his very young fans. “He was a naturally shy person, even around adults,” Geisel’s former secretary, Julie Olf, said. “But with children, that shyness was magnified tremendously.”

9. One of Dr. Seuss's rejected story ideas was about Mount Everest.

Nuptse peak near Gorak Shep village and signpost - Way to Everest base camp - Khumbu valley, Solukhumbu, Nepal Himalayas mountains
DanielPrudek/iStock via Getty Images

Before Geisel began working on The Cat in the Hat, he wanted to write a children’s book about climbing Mount Everest in subzero temperatures. He hoped that it would be a thrilling page-turner for kids—and the antithesis of the Dick and Jane texts most schoolchildren were forced to read in those days. But upon pitching the idea to a publisher, Geisel was told that he couldn’t use the words Everest, scaling, peaks, or degrees, because young readers wouldn't recognize or understand them.

10. McElligot’s Pool contains an inside joke.

The cover of Dr. Seuss's 'McElligot’s Pool'
Random House via Amazon

The preamble to 1947’s McElligot’s Pool reads: “This book is dedicated to T.R. Geisel of Springfield, Mass., The World’s Greatest Authority on Blackfish, Fiddler Crabs and Deegel Trout.” When the author was a boy, he and his father once had an uneventful fishing trip. Before the duo returned, the elder Geisel bought some trout from the Deegel Hatchery—then told all the neighbors they’d caught the fish themselves.

11. Ted Geisel had a successful advertising career.

Both before and after he began publishing children's books, Geisel worked in advertising. Ford, Holly Sugar, and General Electric all employed Geisel’s artistic talents in print ads. In 1928, the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey put him on their payroll; Geisel earned $12,000 a year to draw cartoons and posters for Flit, a Standard Oil-owned insecticide brand. During that time, the slogan he devised—“Quick, Henry, the Flit!”—became culturally iconic. Geisel worked with the company until 1941.

12. Geisel worked with Chuck Jones and Ray Harryhausen during World War II.

A WWII illustration by Dr. Seuss
A WWII illustration by Dr. Seuss
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

During World War II, Geisel joined forces with two of the biggest names in animation: Chuck Jones and Ray Harryhausen. Jones—who created such iconic Looney Tunes characters as Marvin the Martian, Pepé Le Pew, Wile E. Coyote, and the Road Runner—worked with Geisel during the war to create dozens of animated shorts for America’s armed forces. A recurring character in their cartoons was Private Snafu, who helped teach soldiers about things like mine field procedures, good hygiene, and what to do with classified information.

Snafu's physical appearance was based on a model co-designed by sculptor Ray Harryhausen (under Geisel’s supervision). Harryhausen quickly emerged as a pioneer in the field of stop-motion animation; Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and One Million Years B.C. (1966) are among his best-known movies.

13. In the 1930s, Ted Geisel illustrated “boner” books.

The cover of Dr. Seuss's 'The Pocket Book of Boners'
Pocket Books via Amazon

Relax, people: Boner means mistake or blunder (at least it did back when these books came out). Published by Viking Press in 1931, Boners was a short collection of hilariously inaccurate statements made by schoolchildren. (“The people of Moscow are called Mosquitoes,” surmised one kid.) Geisel was hired to draw original cartoons to match the one-liners. Viking went on to release three sequels, including More Boners, which Geisel also illustrated. They were eventually packaged into one volume, The Pocket Book of Boners.

14. Yertle the Turtle is a stand-in for Hitler.

Dr. Seuss's 'Yertle the Turtle'
Random House via Amazon

“Kids gag at having morals crammed down their throats,” Geisel told The Saturday Evening Post in 1965. “But there is a moral inherent in any damn thing you write that has a dramatic point ... Still I never set out to prove a point—except for Yertle the Turtle, a deliberate parable of the life of Hitler.” While developing the story, the author even considered giving Yertle a mustache.

15. A line about Lake Erie was cut from The Lorax many years after its original publication.

Dr. Seuss's 'The Lorax'
Random House via Amazon

Lake Erie was a national punchline when The Lorax was first published in 1971. Runaway phosphorous pollution had set off massive algal blooms and dead fish were washing ashore in frightening numbers. In early editions of The Lorax, the title character tells the villainous Once-ler that he’s evicting the native humming fish from a polluted pond. “I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie,” The Lorax added.

Fifteen years later, Geisel was contacted by Rosanne Fortner, an environmental education coordinator at The Ohio State University. She informed the author that after The Lorax’s publication, cleanup efforts had done wonders for the lake. At her request, Geisel removed all references to Lake Erie in later printings of the book.

16. There’s a spider named after The Lorax.

Lapsias lorax male (ECU10-3221) — ECUADOR: PICHINCHA: Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve, Discovery Trail 0.01462
© 2012 W. Maddison, Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) 3.0 // Wikimedia Commons

Lapsias lorax is an Ecuadorian jumping spider. About 0.2 inches long, this arachnid’s got yellow markings near its mouth, which resemble the mustache of its literary counterpart.

17. A few parents complained about The Butter Battle Book.

Dr. Seuss's The Butter Battle Book
Random House via Amazon

What starts out as a minor difference of opinion turns into a military arms race in 1984's The Butter Battle Book, a clear allegory for U.S.-Soviet hostilities during the Cold War. Some parents took issue with the story, worried that even referencing nuclear horrors was too scary for children. Geisel felt otherwise. “I don’t think my book is going to change society,” he opined. “But I’m naive enough to think that society will be changed by [the] examination of ideas through books and the press and that information can prove to be greater than the dissemination of stupidity.”

18. Ted Geisel was impressed by Where the Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak.

Children's writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak with his book 'Where the Wild Things Are' at the International Youth Library in Munich, 9th June 1971
Maurice Sendak with his book Where the Wild Things Are at the International Youth Library in Munich in 1971.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

"Sendak has the courage not to be influenced by editors,” Geisel said of his fellow children's author. “Everybody said his book Where the Wild Things Are would drive kids crazy, and they love it. Like me, he isn’t writing for kids; he’s writing for all people.”

19. Geisel put NSFW pictures in book manuscripts—just to make sure his editors were paying attention.

Ted Geisel, American writer and cartoonist, at work on a drawing of the grinch for "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"
Al Ravenna, Library of Congress New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

A draft of the alphabet primer Dr. Seuss’ ABC that Geisel sent to his editor at Random House had a picture of a naked woman next to the letter “X.” The text that accompanied the image read: "Big X, little x. X,X,X / Someday, kiddies, you will learn about SEX.” Geisel knew full well that Random House would never include that sort of verse in a children’s book. He reportedly only put it in the draft to keep his bosses on their toes.

20. Nudity abounds in a lesser-known Dr. Seuss book.

Dr. Seuss's The Seven Lady Godivas: The True Facts Concerning History's Barest Family
Random House via Amazon

The Seven Lady Godivas: True Facts Concerning History’s Barest Family was written and illustrated by Geisel in 1939. And it most definitely caters to adult readers. Naked women—drawn in that classic Seussian style—frolic across the pages and get into all kinds of trouble. Some 10,000 copies were produced; all but 2500 went unsold. “I attempted to draw the sexiest babes I could, but they came out looking absurd,” Geisel said of the project.

21. Ted Geisel received 9267 pounds of fan mail in a year.

A photograph of Ted Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss
Library of Congress // Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The publishing company handled most of it directly. Since Geisel couldn’t answer every letter, he had Random House send out standardized notes bearing his autograph. These thanked the kids for writing Dr. Seuss—but informed them that he lived on a high mountain peak and had to get all his mail delivered by a slow-moving animal called a Budget. Who drove the beast? A “Nudget” of course!

22. Ted Geisel co-wrote a movie musical.

Theatrical release poster for the film 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. (1953)

Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Based on an original Dr. Seuss story, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T is a Technicolor fantasy about a crazed musician who kidnaps 500 boys and forces all of them to play a gigantic piano. Geisel teamed up with Academy Award nominee Allan Scott to write the script and penned the lyrics for the movie’s 17 musical numbers. (Most of which were cut.) The picture is warmly remembered today, but it didn’t do much for contemporary audiences. Released in 1953, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T bombed at the box office.

23. Richard Nixon was the target of a Seussian parody.

A portrait of 37th president Richard Nixon
Keystone/Getty Images

Geisel wasn't a fan of Richard Nixon. In the summer of 1974, with Nixon facing almost certain impeachment over the Watergate scandal, the writer sent the The Washington Post a parody of his beloved story, Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! Its amended title? Richard M. Nixon, Will You Please Go Now!

The full version, which was published by the newspaper on July 30, implored the president to resign. "The time has come, the time is now,” it read. “Just go. Go. Go! I don’t care how. You can go by foot. You can go by cow. Richard M. Nixon, Will You Please Go Now!”

24. Ted Geisel scrapped a book on sports.

All Sorts of Sports would’ve revolved around a character who tries everything from baseball to tennis to a game called blumf. Geisel sketched a rough outline, but decided the protagonist was too athletically inept. “I think the reader’s reaction will be, 'What’s the matter with this dope?'" he admitted in a 1983 letter.

25. A dinosaur footprint was one of his most cherished possessions.

One of Geisel's most beloved possessions was a fossilized dinosaur footprint that had been gifted to him by his father. Geisel made the track the centerpiece of the rock garden at his home in La Jolla, California. The footprint, which measured approximately 16 inches in length and and 11 inches in width, came from a Massachusetts shale pit and was estimated to be about 150 million years old. Geisel was awed by its age, and by the sheer size of its prehistoric maker. “It keeps me from getting conceited,” he once said. “Whenever I think I’m pretty good, I just go out and look at it.”

Since Geisel adored practical jokes, some of his house guests assumed the fossil was fake. “Half the people I show it to think I made it myself,” he admitted.

26. Ted Geisel was often mistaken for a scientist who also lived in La Jolla, California.

Ted Geisel wasn’t La Jolla’s only famous resident: Dr. Hans Suess, a chemist and nuclear physicist lived there, too. Their proximity used to confuse the postal service. As The New Yorker reported in 1960, “Hans Suess … sometimes receives requests from first-grade teachers that have been addressed simply ‘Dr. Seuss, La Jolla,’ and Geisel, in turn, receives requests from bathyorographically oriented professors.”

27. Dr. Seuss may have invented the word nerd.

Statue of Dr. Seuss and The Cat in the Hat at University of California San Diego
iStock.com/Georgejason

“Someone who once would be called a dip or square is now, regrettably, called a nerd,” Newsweek reported in an October 8, 1951 story about teenager slang. This is the oldest published instance of the term nerd being used in that context. But it’s not the first time nerd appeared in print.

One year earlier, Dr. Seuss's If I Ran the Zoo arrived in bookstores. The narrator of the children’s classic vows to wrangle “A Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seer-Sucker, too.” Given that timeline of events, a few cultural commentators suspect that nerd was first coined by Geisel. When he was asked about its origins in 1987, Geisel said he’d never encountered the word before using it. “Perhaps it comes from Nerdfogel’ which I’m sure you know all about,” he joked.

28. Geisel waxed poetic about popovers during a commencement speech.

A pan of popovers fresh out of the oven
zingtime/iStock via Getty Images

Public speaking may not have been Geisel's forte, but it came with the territory of being one of the world's most successful authors. In 1977, Geisel summoned the courage to say a few words to Lake Forest College's graduating class. Right after the school’s president emeritus presented him with an honorary degree, Geisel took the podium and treated everyone to an original—and uniquely inspirational—poem called “My Uncle Terwilliger on the Art of Eating Popovers.”

29. You’re Only Old Once! A Book for Obsolete Children was published on Ted Geisel’s 82nd birthday.

Dr. Seuss's You're Only Old Once!: A Book for Obsolete Children

Random House via Amazon

You’re Only Old Once!, a picture-filled romp through some whacky medical procedures, made the New York Times bestseller list in 1986.

30. Dartmouth College regularly serves green eggs and ham in Ted Geisel's honor.

A plate of green eggs and ham
iStock.com/ErikaMitchell

The Dartmouth Outing Club, which organizes outdoor treks and events for students at the Ivy League school, regularly pays tribute to Dr. Seuss by serving up green eggs and ham to freshmen who participate in some of their outdoor excursions.

31. It took Ted Geisel three months to devise an ending for How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Dr. Seuss's 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas!'
Random House via Amazon

In coming up with an ending for How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, Geisel wanted a happy resolution that was both sincere and sentimental but not overly theological. “I got hung up on how to get the Grinch out of the mess,” Geisel said. “I got into a situation where I sounded like a second-rate preacher or some bible thumper.”

After a full three months of wrestling with the problem and burning through “thousands of religious choices,” he chose to end the book with the wholesome image of the Grinch and the Whos seated around a dinner table, merrily eating Roast Beast.

32. A few of Dr. Seuss's books have been translated into Latin.

Terence and Jennifer Tunberg are a husband and wife duo who teach classics at the University of Kentucky. Together, they created Latin translations of three popular Dr. Seuss books. Published in 1998, their edition of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! was titled Quomodo Invidiosulus Nomine Grinchus Christi Natalem Abrogaverit. Then came Cattus Petasatus, the Tunbergs’ take on The Cat in the Hat. Finally, they released Virent Ova! Viret Perna!!, which is better known to readers as Green Eggs and Ham.

33. There’s a Dr. Seuss sculpture garden in Springfield, Massachusetts.

406079 02: Elementary school children, the Springfield Schools Seuss Singers perform in front of a bronze Horton the elelphant statue at the opening the Dr. Suess memorial sculpture garden May 31, 2001 in Springfield, MA.
William B. Plowman, Getty Images

Since opening to the public in 2002, the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden in Geisel's hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts has welcomed more than 3 million visitors. The garden is populated by bronze statues of characters like the Lorax, the Grinch, Horton the Elephant, and the Cat in the Hat. The garden is just steps from yet another Geisel attraction: The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum.

34. Massachusetts drivers can order The Cat in the Hat license plates.

"Oh the places you’ll go, with THE CAT in tow!” proclaims an ad from The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum. Bay State motorists with $40 to spare can exchange their old license plates for wubbulous new ones featuring the cartoon thrill-seeker. All proceeds will go to the museum. The little beauties are set to be released when 750 plates have been pre-ordered.

35. Dr. Seuss has a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.

HOLLYWOOD - MARCH 11: Audrey Geisel, the widow of Dr. Seuss creator Theodore Geisel, attends a ceremony honoring the late children's book author with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on March 11, 2004 in Hollywood , California.
Audrey Geisel, Ted Geisel's widow, and honorary mayor of Hollywood Johnny Grant attend a ceremony honoring Dr. Seuss with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2004.
Vince Bucci/Getty Images

Posthumously unveiled on March 11, 2004, you can find Dr. Seuss's star on the south side of Hollywood Boulevard’s 6500 block.

10 of the Most Popular Portable Bluetooth Speakers on Amazon

Altech/Bose/JBL/Amazon
Altech/Bose/JBL/Amazon

As convenient as smartphones and tablets are, they don’t necessarily offer the best sound quality. But a well-built portable speaker can fill that need. And whether you’re looking for a speaker to use in the shower or a device to take on a long camping trip, these bestselling models from Amazon have you covered.

1. OontZ Angle 3 Bluetooth Portable Speaker; $26-$30 (4.4 stars)

Oontz portable bluetooth speaker
Cambridge Soundworks/Amazon

Of the 57,000-plus reviews that users have left for this speaker on Amazon, 72 percent of them are five stars. So it should come as no surprise that this is currently the best-selling portable Bluetooth speaker on the site. It comes in eight different colors and can play for up to 14 hours straight after a full charge. Plus, it’s splash proof, making it a perfect speaker for the shower, beach, or pool.

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2. JBL Charge 3 Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $110 (4.6 stars)

JBL portable bluetooth speaker
JBL/Amazon

This nifty speaker can connect with up to three devices at one time, so you and your friends can take turns sharing your favorite music. Its built-in battery can play music for up to 20 hours, and it can even charge smartphones and tablets via USB.

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3. Anker Soundcore Bluetooth Speaker; $25-$28 (4.6 stars)

Anker portable bluetooth speaker
Anker/Amazon

This speaker boasts 24-hour battery life and a strong Bluetooth connection within a 66-foot radius. It also comes with a built-in microphone so you can easily take calls over speakerphone.

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4. Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth Speaker; $129 (4.4 stars)

Bose portable bluetooth speaker
Bose/Amazon

Bose is well-known for building user-friendly products that offer excellent sound quality. This portable speaker lets you connect to the Bose app, which makes it easier to switch between devices and personalize your settings. It’s also water-resistant, making it durable enough to handle a day at the pool or beach.

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5. DOSS Soundbox Touch Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $28-$33 (4.4 stars)

DOSS portable bluetooth speaker
DOSS/Amazon

This portable speaker features an elegant system of touch controls that lets you easily switch between three methods of playing audio—Bluetooth, Micro SD, or auxiliary input. It can play for up to 20 hours after a full charge.

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6. Altec Lansing Mini Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $15-$20 (4.3 stars)

Altec Lansing portable bluetooth speaker
Altec Lansing/Amazon

This lightweight speaker is built for the outdoors. With its certified IP67 rating—meaning that it’s fully waterproof, shockproof, and dust proof—it’s durable enough to withstand harsh environments. Plus, it comes with a carabiner that can attach to a backpack or belt loop.

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7. Tribit XSound Go Bluetooth Speaker; $33-$38 (4.6 stars)

Tribit portable bluetooth speaker
Tribit/Amazon

Tribit’s portable Bluetooth speaker weighs less than a pound and is fully waterproof and resistant to scratches and drops. It also comes with a tear-resistant strap for easy transportation, and the rechargeable battery can handle up to 24 hours of continuous use after a full charge. In 2020, it was Wirecutter's pick as the best budget portable Bluetooth speaker on the market.

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8. VicTsing SoundHot C6 Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $18 (4.3 stars)

VicTsing portable bluetooth speaker
VicTsing/Amazon

The SoundHot portable Bluetooth speaker is designed for convenience wherever you go. It comes with a detachable suction cup and a carabiner so you can keep it secure while you’re showering, kayaking, or hiking, to name just a few.

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9. AOMAIS Sport II Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $30 (4.4 stars)

AOMAIS portable bluetooth speaker
AOMAIS/Amazon

This portable speaker is certified to handle deep waters and harsh weather, making it perfect for your next big adventure. It can play for up to 15 hours on a full charge and offers a stable Bluetooth connection within a 100-foot radius.

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10. XLEADER SoundAngel Touch Bluetooth Speaker; $19-$23 (4.4 stars)

XLeader portable bluetooth speaker
XLEADER/Amazon

This stylish device is available in black, silver, gold, and rose gold. Plus, it’s equipped with Bluetooth 5.0, a more powerful technology that can pair with devices up to 800 feet away. The SoundAngel speaker itself isn’t water-resistant, but it comes with a waterproof case for protection in less-than-ideal conditions.

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This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

11 Facts About Henry David Thoreau

By Benjamin D. Maxham, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Benjamin D. Maxham, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In his book Walden, Henry David Thoreau declared his love of nature, simplicity, and independence. Although most people know about Thoreau’s time in Walden Woods, as well as his Transcendentalism, abolitionist views, and writing on civil disobedience, there’s a lot more to uncover about him. Here are some things you might not have known about Henry David Thoreau, who was born on July 12, 1817.

1. You're probably mispronouncing Henry David Thoreau's name.

Born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1817, David Henry Thoreau switched his first and middle names after graduating from Harvard. His legal name, though, was always David Henry. Although most people today pronounce Thoreau’s surname with the emphasis on the second syllable, he most likely pronounced it “THOR-oh.” Ralph Waldo Emerson’s son, Edward, wrote that the accent in Thoreau’s name was on the first syllable, and other friends called him “Mr. Thorough.”

2. Henry David Thoreau invented a machine to improve pencils.

In the 1820s, Thoreau’s father started manufacturing black-lead pencils. Between teaching students, surveying land, and working as a handyman, Thoreau made money by working for his family’s pencil business. After researching German techniques for making pencils, he invented a grinding machine that made better quality plumbago (a mixture of the lead, graphite, and clay inside a pencil). After his father died, Thoreau ran the family’s pencil company.

3. Henry David Thoreau accidentally burned hundreds of acres of woods.

In 1844, a year before moving into a house in Walden Woods, the 26-year-old Thoreau was cooking fish he had caught with a friend in the woods outside Concord. The grass around the fire ignited, and the flames burned between 100 and 300 acres of land, thanks to strong winds. Even years later, his neighbors disparagingly called him a rascal and a woods burner. In an 1850 journal entry, Thoreau described how the earth was “uncommonly dry”—there hadn’t been much rain—and how the fire “spread rapidly.” Although he initially felt guilty, he wrote that he soon realized that fire is natural, and lightning could have sparked a fire in the woods just as easily as his cooking accident did.

4. Henry David Thoreau's house at Walden Pond later became a pigsty.

After Thoreau left the home he built in Walden Woods in 1847, the structure went through multiple iterations. He sold the house to Emerson (it was on land that Emerson already owned), and Emerson sold it to his gardener. The gardener never moved in, so the house was empty until a farmer named James Clark bought it in 1849. Clark moved it to his nearby farm and used it to store grain. In 1868, the roof of the building was removed from the base and used to cover a pigsty. In 1875, the rest of the structure was used as a shed before its timber was used to fix Clark’s barn. Today, you can see replicas of Thoreau’s house near Walden Pond in Massachusetts.

5. Henry David Thoreau and his brother both fell in love with the same woman.

In 1839, Thoreau wrote in his journal about how he fell in love with Ellen Sewall, an 18-year-old from Cape Cod. In 1840, Thoreau’s older brother John proposed marriage to Sewall but was rejected. So, like any good brother, Thoreau wrote a letter to Sewall, proposing that she marry him instead. Sewall rejected him too, probably due to her family disapproving of the Thoreau family’s liberal views on Christianity.

Despite the aforementioned marriage proposal, some historians and biographers speculate that Thoreau was gay. He never married, reportedly preferred celibacy, and his journals reveal references to male bodies but no female ones.

6. Despite popular misconception, Henry David Thoreau wasn't a loner.

Historians have debunked the misconception that Thoreau was a selfish hermit who lived alone so he could stay away from other people. Rather than being a loner, Thoreau was an individualist who was close to his family members and lived with Emerson’s family (on and off) for years. To build his cabin in the woods, he got help from his friends including Emerson and Bronson Alcott, the father of Louisa May Alcott. During his stay in the woods, he frequently entertained guests, visited friends, and walked to the (nearby) town of Concord. At his funeral at Concord’s First Parish Church, a large group of friends attended to mourn and celebrate his life.

7. Henry David Thoreau was a minimalist.

Long before tiny houses were trendy, Thoreau wrote about the benefits of living a simple, minimalist lifestyle. In Walden, he wrote about giving up the luxuries of everyday life in order to quiet the mind and have time for thinking. “My greatest skill has been to want but little,” he wrote. Thoreau also related his love of simplicity to the craft of writing: “It is the fault of some excellent writers ... that they express themselves with too great fullness and detail. They give the most faithful, natural, and lifelike account of their sensations, mental and physical, but they lack moderation and sententiousness.”

8. Henry David Thoreau took copious notes.

Although he was a minimalist, Thoreau wrote an abundance of notes and ideas in his journals, essays, and letters. He jotted down his observations of nature, writing in detail about everything from how plant seeds spread across the land to the changing temperature of Walden Pond to animal behavior. In addition to his plethora of notes and environmental data, Thoreau also collected hundreds of plant specimens and birds’ eggs.

9. Henry David Thoreau was praised for his originality.

In 1862, newspapers widely reported the news of Thoreau’s death. Obituaries for the 44-year-old writer appeared in The Boston Transcript, The Boston Daily Advertiser, The Liberator, The Boston Journal, The New-York Daily Tribune, and The Salem Observer. The obituaries describe Thoreau as an “eccentric author” and “one of the most original thinkers our country has produced.”

10. Henry David Thoreau donated his collections to the Boston Society of Natural History.

After Thoreau’s death, the Boston Society of Natural History got a huge gift. Thoreau, a member, gave the society his collections of plants, Indian antiquities, and birds’ eggs and nests. The plants were pressed and numbered—there were more than 1000 species—and the Native American antiquities included stone weapons that Thoreau had found while walking in Concord.

11. Don Henley of the Eagles is a huge fan of Henry David Thoreau.

As a big fan of both Thoreau and Transcendentalism, musician Don Henley of the Eagles started The Walden Woods Project in 1990 to stop 68 acres of Walden Woods from being turned into offices and condominiums. The project succeeded in saving the woods, and today The Walden Woods Project is a nonprofit organization that conserves Walden Woods, preserves Thoreau’s legacy, and manages an archive of Thoreau’s books, maps, letters, and manuscripts. In an interview with Preservation Magazine, Henley described the importance of preserving Walden Woods: “The pond and the woods that inspired the writing of Walden are historically significant not only because they were the setting for a great American classic, but also because Walden Woods was Henry David Thoreau's living laboratory, where he formulated his theory of forest succession, a precursor to contemporary ecological science.”

This story has been updated for 2020.