Charles Monroe Schulz, one of the most famous cartoonists of all time, was born in Minnesota on November 26, 1922. Charles was the sole child of his German father, a barber, and his Norwegian mother, a housewife. He grew up in Saint Paul with the nickname “Sparky”, given to him by his Uncle.
Charles began his drawing at a young age, submitting a sketch of his dog Spike (later his inspiration for Snoopy) to Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, which comic Robert Ripley published in one of his strips. In elementary school, Charles skipped two grades causing him to be the youngest student in his graduating class in high school, where the school yearbook actually rejected his drawings for publication. After graduating, the government drafted him into the US Army. He fought in WWII where made E-6 and received the Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB). Charles left the Army in 1945 and proceeded to work as an instructor at an art school, and he worked for the Roman Catholic magazine Timeless Topix doing lettering.
The Pioneer Press in St. Paul, Minnesota published Charles’ first cartoon Li’l Folks in 1947. The series included four different versions of a character named Charlie Brown. He attempted to have this cartoon syndicated, but the Pioneer Press dropped it in 1950. Not giving up, he submitted his best cartoons that same year for syndication, and they published the first strip of Peanuts in the October of 1950.
Like most artists, Charles drew ideas from his personal life. Schulz named Charlie Brown after a friend from his previous job, and like Schulz’s parents, Charlie Brown’s were a housewife and barber. Donna Johnson inspired the “Little Red-Haired Girl”, a woman that Schulz had a crush on at the Art Instruction School that married another man. Charles named the characters Linus and Shermy after two friends of the same name, and a cousin of his inspired Peppermint Patty. Perhaps the most obvious inspiration to Schulz was himself, who was shy and awkward much like Charlie Brown.
Over 2,600 newspapers published Peanuts for 50 years, and it has appeared in newspapers in 75 countries around the world. After Schulz had a stroke in 1999 he retired, as he could no longer see or read clearly. He also underwent chemotherapy for colon cancer, which took his life on February 12, 2000 in his home, and the last new Peanuts strip ran the next day. Since then, many newspapers continue to run reruns of Peanuts in their comic sections.
The National Cartoonist Society has given Schulz a number of awards including their Elzie Segar Award, the Comic Strip award and the Reuben Award. In 1996 Schulz received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and Milton Caniff awarded him their Lifetime Achievement award in 1999. Most notably, Congress awarded Charles the Congressional Gold Medal by unanimous vote in the senate on May 2, 2000. After his death, the Sonoma County Airport renamed itself the Charles M Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, and the Charles M Schulz Museum and Research Center opened in 2002, which celebrates his work and cartoons. Saint Paul, Minnesota has bronze statues of the Peanuts characters in Landmark Plaza and Rice Park.
Charles Schulz changed the way that readers view cartoons and comic strips, and his Peanuts characters are well loved and known around the world. Even after his death, his estate continues to make millions of dollars a year and during his lifetime Forbes magazine estimates he made close to $1.1 billion. Even though Charlie Brown never did get a chance to kick that football, Charles Schultz most certainly did.
The following links detail the life and work of Charles M. Schulz.
Charles M Schulz Museum Provides details about their exhibits, their collection and special events.
Sonoma County Airport Provides a history of the airport including when and why it they renamed it after Charles Schulz.
New York Times A newspaper article detailing the death of the Peanuts creator.
Notable Biographies A biography of Charles Schulz.
Comics A free collection of Peanuts comic strips.
Charlie Rose A video of a interview done with Charles Schulz in 1997.
Philosophy Now A look at the philosophy behind Peanuts.
The American Spectator A look at why millions fell in love with Peanuts.
The US Senate Details on the award of the Congressional Gold Medal to Charles Schulz.
The Library of Congress The Peanuts strip “Rats…there goes the bell”.
The Boston Globe A copy of Charles Schulz’s farewell letter to Peanuts.
New York Daily News A look at how Peanuts influenced pop culture.