A Brief History of Peanuts

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United Feature Syndicate / AP

Charles Schulz's last Sunday Peanuts comic strip appeared in newspapers Sunday, Feb. 13, 2000

When Alex Davis was 2 years old, he pointed to a drawing his father had done and exclaimed, "Snoopy!" The problem: his father was Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield, and the picture was of the cat he made famous. Charles Schulz's black-and-white dog is so beloved, though, that a lasagna-loving cat can't even compete. Saturday, Oct. 2, marks 60 years since Schulz's first Peanuts strip hit newspapers. Since then, Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the gang have become the most recognizable cartoon characters in America — and have left an indelible mark on American culture.

Yet leave it to the man behind Charlie Brown to experience disappointment before success. In 1947 Schulz started a cartoon feature called L'il Folks for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. It was a flop, never achieving a permanent spot in the paper. In 1950 he compiled his strips and sold the series to the United Features Syndicate, which changed its name to Peanuts. Schulz originally resisted the name change. "I wanted to keep Li'I Folks," he told TIME in 1965. "I wanted a strip with dignity and significance. Peanuts made it sound too insignificant."

The first strip was printed on Oct. 2, 1950, and appeared in seven newspapers. In the strip, Charlie Brown walks by two friends, one of whom remarks, "Well! Here comes 'ol Charlie Brown! Good 'ol Charlie Brown ... yes, sir! Good 'ol Charlie Brown ... how I hate him!" By the end of the decade, Peanuts had been picked up by hundreds of newspapers and had won Schulz a Reuben award, the highest honor given by the National Cartoonists Society.

Schulz's Peanuts exploded during the 1960s, leaving its fingerprints on everything it touched. Charlie Brown and the gang even graced the cover of TIME in 1965. The influence didn't go just one way, though — Peanuts evolved with the turbulent decade. After Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, fans pressed Schulz to include a black character; Franklin first appeared on July 31 of that year. Peppermint Patty, a multidimensional, sports-loving girl living in a single-parent household, made her debut in 1966. And Woodstock, Snoopy's yellow, feathered companion, finally got his name in 1970. When asked why he named the bird after the music festival, Schulz simply replied, "Why not?"

Peanuts triumphed off the printed page as well. In 1965 A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired, beginning a string of televised specials. Two later specials, You're a Good Sport, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, both took home Emmy awards. In 1967 Snoopy and friends hit the stage in an off-Broadway production, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, which ran for four years. It remains one of the most performed American musicals in history. Charlie Brown and Snoopy even went to the moon in 1969, after the Apollo X crew named their command and lunar modules after them. In later decades, Schulz's work graced the Louvre and Carnegie Hall.

By the 1980s and 1990s, Schulz had acquired a massive personal fortune. As he gave millions away to charity, he was frequently listed by Forbes magazine as one of the highest-paid entertainers in America, alongside Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson. He became the highest-paid and most widely read cartoonist of all time. By 1984, Peanuts had made the Guinness World Records after being syndicated to its 2,000th newspaper. Peanuts, which was read by 355 million people, raked in cash through newspaper licensing, book compilations, merchandising and endorsements.

Schulz's health began to deteriorate in the 1990s. His hands developed a tremor, leaving his classic lines wobblier than usual. He suffered a stroke in November 1999 that impaired his vision, memory and motivation to draw. On Dec. 14, 1999, he announced his retirement. On Jan. 3, 2000, the last Peanuts daily strip was published. Schulz died of complications from colon cancer on Feb. 12, one day before his final Sunday strip hit the presses. He was 78. Schulz was posthumously given the Congressional Gold Medal, the body's highest honor given to a civilian. To this day, kids around the world know and love Snoopy.