This Day in History: October 2nd

Today Day in History: October 2, 1950

The First Peanuts comic strip was published:

first-peanuts

Peanuts, written by Charles Schulz and one of the most influential and beloved comic strips of all time, made its debut on this day in 1950 in nine different newspapers. What made Peanuts especially remarkable for its time was its astute social commentary, especially when compared to other strips running in the 50’s and early 60’s.

The subject of racial and women’s equality were not overtly addressed by Schulz in the strip; instead, he assumed these issues were already obvious to the reader in the first place. For example, Peppermint Patty’s athletic prowess and assertiveness is a given, just like Franklin attending a racially integrated school is.

Schulz wasn’t above aiming his sharp wit at any number of topics when he chose to though. Through the years, he took aim at the Vietnam War, the “new math,” and school dress codes. In 1963, he added a young lad named “5” to the cast of characters, who also had two sisters named “3” and “4”. Their dad had changed the family’s surname to their ZIP code to protest how numbers were overtaking people’s identities.

In another strip, Schulz took a jab at Little League and other forms of organized play. When all the other kids in the neighborhood join snowman-building leagues, they taunt Charlie Brown when he insists on building snowmen without official organizations or coaches.

Peanuts also drew upon religious themes on various occasions, most memorably during the 1965 holiday classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” when the blanket-clenching yet wise Linus Van Pelt quotes the King James Version of the Bible (Luke 2:8-14) to explain to a stressed-out Charlie Brown “what Christmas is all about.” (During interviews, Schulz would reveal that Linus was the character who represented his own spiritual side. Charlie Brown represented some of the more painful and awkward experiences of his growing up years.)

The strip (and its many commercial offshoots) enjoyed huge popularity right through the 1990s; but when Schulz was diagnosed with colon cancer, he was forced to retire, and the last original daily Peanuts strip was published on January 3, 2000. The strip was simply Snoopy sitting at his typewriter deep in thought with a note above him from Schulz that reads as follows:

Dear Friends,

I have been fortunate to draw Charlie Brown and his friends for almost fifty years. It has been the fulfillment of my childhood ambition. Unfortunately, I am no longer able to maintain the schedule demanded by a daily comic strip, My family does not wish Peanuts to be continued by anyone else, therefore I am announcing my retirement. I have been grateful over the years for the loyalty of our editors and the wonderful support and love expressed to me by fans of the comic strip. Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy…how can I ever forget them…

The daily strips had ended, but there still six more original Sunday Peanuts strips that had hadn’t been published yet. With a finality that seemed predestined, the last original Sunday Peanuts strip was published the day after Schulz death on February 12, 2000.

So, what is it about Peanuts that makes their popularity so enduring? Why are we drawn to a world where the baseball games are always lost, the tree always eats the kite, the grades are always D-, and the Great Pumpkin never shows? Perhaps because they never lose hope, and never stop trying. There’s always another chance to kick that football. They’ll always be another game, another kite, another test, another Halloween. Just wait ‘til next time!  The characters in Peanuts may despair, but they never lose hope.

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