In the years before he became the beloved Dr. Seuss, children’s author Theodor Geisel toiled away as an adman, creating pitches for oil companies, insecticide purveyors and “G-E.” That’s how we got The Strange Case of Adlebert Blump in the “G-E Merchandiser,” a publication for prospective retailers of GE’s wares.
The story might best be described as Sherlock Holmes fan fiction. Madcap consonant blending of the title aside, the story is fairly direct and doesn’t rhyme. But its visual style — all haughtily mustachioed men, startled cats and droopy dogs — is decidedly Seussian.
The piece follows GE marketers named “Wired Holmes” and “Watson Amps” as they set about trying to uncover who killed the titular fan dealer. Lo, it turns out Mr. Blump is still alive but suffering from “mercantile paralysis” because Holmes’ nemesis Professor Moriarty has convinced him that he doesn’t need to put on a “complete fan promotional campaign.”
The moral of the story appears in all caps in the final paragraph:
“THE MORAL? OF COURSE THERE’S A MORAL. WE’VE ILLUSTRATED IT FOR YOU ON THE TWO FOLLOWING PAGES. IT’S ‘SELL G-E FANS—AND LET A COMPLETE G-E PROMOTIONAL CAMPAIGN HELP YOU.’”
In an era when many artists found it hard to make ends meet, Seuss’s ad work enabled him and his wife to travel the world — experiences that would fuel his creativity and inspire many novels and children’s books.
Seuss wasn’t the only noted artist to find a patron in GE over the years. Norman Rockwell painted ad posters for the company, as did Herbert Bayer, the last living member of the Bauhaus movement. The cult science-fiction illustrator Dean Ellis drew the changing face of downtown America for a GE calendar, and the company also published comic books illustrated by George“Inky”Roussos, who also worked on Batman.
There’s more. Before he authored classics like “Cat’s Cradle” and “Breakfast of Champions,” Kurt Vonnegut worked as a publicist at a GE plant in Schenectady, New York — a stint that inspired the novel “Player Piano.” In the 1950s, before he became president of the United States, Ronald Reagan hosted General Electric Theater, a gig from which he was famously fired in 1962 after making controversial statements about the Tennessee Valley Authority.
For his part, Geisel continued to split his time between ad work and writing novels through the early 1940s. When the U.S. entered World War II, he focused his attention on political cartoons. It wasn’t until the 1950s that he created many of his best-known works, including “Horton Hears a Who!” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”