Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the Peanuts Gang: They Still Make a Lot of People Smile

From The Writer’s Almanac:

The comic strip Peanuts made its debut on this date in 1950. Its creator, Charles “Sparky” Schulz, was born in Minneapolis in 1922, and grew up across the Mississippi River in St. Paul, where his dad owned a barbershop.

The strip ran in seven newspapers when it debuted in 1950. It got off to a slow start its first year, but it picked up steam after a book of reprints was published. By 1960, it ran in hundreds of papers, and Schulz had won the most prestigious award in the cartoonists’ pantheon: a Reuben. And in 1969, NASA named its command module “Charlie Brown” and its lunar module “Snoopy.” At its peak, the strip ran in more than 2,600 papers, and was read by more than 350 million people in 75 countries.

Charlie Brown’s dog first appeared in the third installment of Peanuts. Snoopy was inspired by a black and white dog Schulz had had as a kid. His dog’s name was Spike — the name Schulz eventually gave to Snoopy’s desert-dwelling cousin.

The strip wasn’t explicitly political, but its creator was clearly aware of the changing times, and commented on issues like New Math, the Battle of the Sexes, and trends in psychotherapy. Peppermint Patty, an athletic tomboy from a single-parent household, made her debut in 1966. Schulz introduced Franklin, the strip’s first African American character, in 1968 after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.; Franklin’s father was a veteran of the Vietnam War. The 1960s counterculture also inspired another beloved character: Snoopy’s friend Woodstock, the little yellow bird, whose speech bubbles contain nothing but a series of vertical lines.

Schulz suffered a stroke in 1999; he was also diagnosed with colon cancer. He announced his retirement in December, and died at home on February 12, 2000 — the night before the final Peanuts strip appeared in the papers.

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