1. Schulz’s lifelong ambition was to be a cartoonist.
A Minnesota-born barber’s son, Schulz dreamed of becoming a cartoonist from a young age. He had a less-than-distinguished academic record, but outside the classroom he drew constantly and read newspaper comic strips with his dad. When Schulz was 15, he published his first drawing, a picture of his dog, who later served as the inspiration for Snoopy. Following his high school graduation in 1940, he worked odd jobs and submitted cartoons for publication in magazines. However, Schulz received “nothing but rejection slips,” as he later noted.
2. Schulz wasn’t a fan of the name Peanuts.
In 1947, one of Schulz’s local newspapers, the St. Paul Pioneer, started publishing a weekly comic panel he’d created called “Li’l Folks,” which featured the forerunners of the Peanuts characters. In 1950, Schulz sold “Li’l Folks” to the United Feature Syndicate after being turned down by other syndication companies. Due to worries about potential copyright infringement, the syndicate opted to rechristen Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts, likely after the Peanut Gallery where the live audience of kids sat on “The Howdy Doody Show.” Even after Peanuts became hugely successful, Schulz said he never liked the name and wanted to call the strip “Good Old Charlie Brown.”
3. The strip wasn’t an instant hit.
When Peanuts made its October 1950 debut, it was published in seven U.S. newspapers. That first year, the comic strip came in last place in the New York World Telegram’s reader survey of cartoons; however, a book of Peanuts reprints helped the strip gain a larger audience. Eventually, the strip was syndicated to more than 2,600 newspapers around the globe and read by more than 350 million people in 75 countries. Schulz was also named Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year. In 1958, the first plastic toy dolls of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and other Peanuts characters were produced, launching a massive flow of Peanuts merchandise ranging from greeting cards to pajamas. By 1999, some 20,000 different new products featuring members of the Peanuts gang were being marketed every year.
4. Many of the Peanuts characters were inspired by real people and events.
Snoopy was one of Schulz’s earliest Peanuts characters, appearing for the first time on October 4, 1950, two days after the comic strip’s debut. Schulz loosely based Snoopy on a black-and-white dog named Spike he had as a teenager. The cartoonist originally planned to call his cartoon dog Sniffy, but shortly before the comic strip launched Schulz was passing a newsstand and noticed a comic magazine featuring a dog with the same name. Now in need of a new name, Schulz remembered his mother’s suggestion that the family should name their next dog “Snoopy.”
After serving in World War II, Schulz worked as an instructor at the Minneapolis correspondence school where he’d taken art classes as a teen. It was there where he befriended Charlie Brown, whose name would later become that of his main character. Also while employed at the school, Schulz became romantically involved with a redhead named Donna Johnson, who worked in the accounting department. She eventually rejected him for another man, leaving Schulz crushed. However, the experience inspired the cartoonist to develop a character called the Little Red-Haired Girl, Charlie Brown’s unrequited love.
In 1968, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Schulz introduced his comic strip’s first black character, Franklin, whose father was a soldier in the Vietnam War. Another character, a yellow bird called Woodstock, was named for the 1969 landmark music festival.
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5. TV execs thought “A Charlie Brown Christmas” would flop.
Network executives expected the Christmas special to be shown once on TV and then disappear. Their pessimism stemmed from various concerns. The special casted children to play the voices of the characters, many of whom lacked professional acting experience, and included a monologue for Linus in which he quotes the Bible. They also felt the lack of a laugh track and the show’s jazz soundtrack contributed to the overall slow-paced storytelling. Instead, when the program premiered on December 9, 1965, it drew a large audience. It later won an Emmy award and became one of the longest-running holiday specials of all time.
6. Snoopy went to space.
Following the 1967 Apollo 1 fire disaster, NASA officials contacted Charles Schulz to use Snoopy as their safety mascot. Schulz helped design a pin for the Silver Snoopy award, which was presented to aerospace workers for outstanding contributions toward safer spaceflight operations. Later, during the Apollo 10 mission (which served as the dress rehearsal for the historic Apollo 11 moon landing), NASA dubbed the lunar module “Snoopy” and the command module “Charlie Brown.”
7. Schulz was a World War II veteran.
During the war, Schulz was drafted into the Army and assigned to the 20th Armored Infantry Division. He trained as a machine gunner and was sent to Germany toward the end of the conflict; his division helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp. Schulz later commemorated Veteran’s Day in Peanuts and referenced fellow vets such as Bill Mauldin, who became famous for his cartoons featuring U.S. troops. Schulz also honored the anniversary of D-Day in Peanuts and was involved in planning the National D-Day Memorial in Virginia. He once said, “I think any sensible person with a grasp of history would have to admit that D-Day was the most important day of our century.”
8. The Peanuts creator died one day before his final Sunday comic strip appeared.
In December 1999, after being diagnosed with colon cancer, Schulz announced he would retire. On February 12, 2000, the 77-year-old cartoonist died at his home in Santa Rosa, California, the day before his last Sunday Peanuts strip appeared in newspapers. Schulz had stipulated in his syndicate contract that no one else could take over the comic strip he’d drawn for nearly half a century. In all, Schulz produced 17,897 Peanuts strips: 15,391 daily strips and 2,506 Sunday strips.
9. There’s a museum devoted to all things Peanuts.
In 2002, the Charles M. Schulz Museum & Research Center opened in Sonoma County, California, where the cartoonist lived and worked for four decades. Among the museum’s collection of Peanuts-related artwork, letters and photographs are a recreation of Schulz’s work studio and a life-size wrapped Snoopy doghouse by the artist Christo. Numerous other museums, including the Louvre and the Smithsonian, have hosted Peanuts-themed exhibits. In 2016, the Snoopy Museum Tokyo is slated to open in Japan.