Fun and Games

The nickname for Springfield, Massachusetts is “The City of Firsts” for good reason. There is a rather long list of things that happened here first. If you doubt me, go ahead and Google it. I will only highlight two of the people who made their mark here first. Allow me to tell you a little something about Milton Bradley and Theodor Seuss Geisel, two men whose names are well known to you, even if their stories are not. Oddly enough, the careers of both of these men were influenced by presidents of the United States. Both men were affected personally by the actions of an American president, but both men grew from those experiences and went on to achieve great things in their lives.

Milton Bradley

Milton Bradley moved to Springfield in 1856 and opened his own company, the first color lithography shop there, in 1860. Bradley made lithographs of a clean shaven Abe Lincoln and they were selling well, but then Lincoln grew a beard. The prints stopped selling and customers even demanded their money back. Bradley ended up burning all he had. With his business in ashes, he began looking for a new project. He was inspired by a game a friend gave him from another country and thought he could develop a version for the US that would teach morals and some factual information as well as provide lots of fun. The Checkered Game of Life sold like hotcakes. Milton saw Union soldiers stationed nearby hanging around with time on their hands and developed a game kit. Bradley’s game kit included games such as chess, checkers, dominoes, and of course, The Checkered Game of Life. It was small and could easily fit in the pocket or knapsack of the soldiers. Debuted in time for Christmas, the kit was marketed to families of soldiers and could be mailed easily. The kits were enormously popular and from there, the game company started by Milton Bradley was off and running. Most homes in America today probably have a Milton Bradley product in a cabinet or closet although it may have the name Hasbro on the box because the Milton Bradley’s eponymous company has gone through several acquisitions and changes over the past century and a half. I easily found Candy Land and The Game of Life in our house.

Later in life, Bradley took an interest in early childhood education. He published pamphlets and magazines on kindergarten. His company developed educational games and kits. He even introduced crayon and watercolor sets with standardized colors. None of these projects were profitable for the company but Bradley continued his pursuits because of his avid interest in art education.

This original Checkered Game of Life was in the Springfield Museum.

Bradley produced items like this sewing kit because of his interest in early childhood education.

An example of Bradley’s combo game sets.

 

Theodor Seuss Geisel was the grandson of German immigrants. When World War I came along, being a proud German-American Boy Scout, Theodor sold so many war bonds that he made it on the list of top ten sellers in Springfield. The top sellers were appearing at a large celebration and were to receive awards from former president Theodore Roosevelt. However, young Theodor was last in line and there were only nine awards for the former president to present. Roosevelt gruffly demanded to know what that little boy was doing there. Theodor was horribly embarrassed and rushed off stage by his scoutmaster. The whole affair left him with a lifelong case of stage fright and he never got over his immense dread of public appearances.

Theodor Seuss Geisel was born in Springfield, MA in 1904.

Theodor also had to deal with a lot of rejection before his work was published. After his twenty-seventh rejection, he was heading back to his apartment to burn the manuscript when he ran into a friend from college who had just been hired as head of the children’s division of a publishing company. Within hours, Theodor had a book deal and the rest is Dr. Seuss history.

Like Milton Bradley, Dr. Seuss was also very interested in childhood education. In the mid-1950s, Dr. Seuss answered a call to write children’s books that weren’t like the boring old Dick and  Jane primers. He took a list of 240 words for young readers and created The Cat and the Hat. The book has delighted young children for decades. By 2017, the sixtieth  anniversary since it’s publication, over 16 million copies of the book had been sold worldwide.

The Springfield Museum complex has a wonderful Dr. Seuss Museum with all sorts of fun activities for children as well as a sculpture garden in front of the building. Walking through and seeing all the characters is like bumping into old friends. As you can see below, you just can’t help but sit down for a chat with the cat in the hat.

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Judy on April 9, 2024 at 5:45 am

    I didn’t know about either one of them! Interesting!

  2. Pam Morgan on April 26, 2024 at 4:29 pm

    I don’t remember the Checkered Game of Life! Really cool pictures and fun information.

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