Celebrating 65 Years of Peanuts

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 This online exhibition is adapted from the full version that was on view in the Museum’s comic strip rotation gallery from August 19, 2015 to January 10, 2016.

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65 years ago, Peanuts began publication on October 2, 1950. Many fans are surprised to learn that the earliest comic strips featured a somewhat smart aleck Charlie Brown absent his signature zigzag shirt, and Snoopy as a puppy that walked on all fours. In those formative years, Charles M. Schulz applied steady black lines to create sharply drawn characters and compositions, revealing the ambition of a young man who dreamed since childhood of being a cartoonist. “It’s hard for people to comprehend that someone can be born a cartoonist,” he once said, “But I believe I was.”

In the five decades that Schulz drew Peanuts, the physical appearance of the Gang naturally evolved, as well as their individual attitudes and personal philosophies. As the characters developed, they also provided Schulz with ideas. However, he said he remained unaware of these transformations until his comic strips appeared in reprint books long after their initial debuts in newspapers.

As you view the Peanuts cartoons in this exhibition, note the rich detail of early comic strips contrasted with the minimalism of those published in later years. In his matter-of-fact manner, Schulz explained the changes this way: “You don’t notice when you’re drawing day after day. The characters do change. They get smaller, they get taller and they shrink …”


Charles M. Schulz
Li’l Folks (detail)
May 30, 1948
Newspaper image

This cartoon represents the first time that Schulz named a character Charlie Brown. Drawn for his first weekly cartoon series, called Li’l Folks, this pre-dated Peanuts by more than a year. At the time, Schulz worked at Art Instruction Schools, Inc., in Minnesota. A fellow instructor by the name of Charles F. Brown was pleased when Schulz asked to use his name for a character. He referred to four different Li’l Folks characters as Charlie Brown, but these youngsters bore no resemblance to the eventual Peanuts protagonist. Li’l Folks also regularly featured a puppy that looked like an early version of Snoopy.


Charles M. Schulz
Peanuts
November 25, 1950
Original artwork

Peanuts began publication on October 2, 1950. This cartoon from November 25, 1950 is the earliest Peanuts comic strip in the Museum collection, and is significant for the fact that Charlie Brown appears without his iconic zig-zag shirt. Schulz did not add in this detail until December 21, 1950.


Charlie Brown Throughout the Years

“He's a caricature. We all know what it's like to lose, but Charlie Brown keeps losing outrageously. It's not that he's a loser; he's really a decent little sort.” --Charles M. Schulz


Charles M. Schulz
Peanuts
June 25, 1956
Original artwork

Visitors may wonder why Charlie Brown’s shirt is red in the comic strip above. This remains a mystery. The hue may have been colored in by Schulz, his syndicate, or another owner of the artwork.

As Charlie Brown developed, his attitude changed considerably. Schulz acknowledged the originally flippant side of his main character, who gradually grew into the kinder, gentler hero that most readers are now familiar with. In 1971, Schulz said, “I used to say he tried too hard, and that he wanted everyone to like him too much, but I've grown away from that.”


Charles M. Schulz
Peanuts
November 8, 1969
Original artwork

As Peanuts entered into the 1960s, Charlie Brown revealed the personality traits that became lasting hallmarks of his character, including insecurity, and perseverance in the face of immeasurable defeat. His interactions with girls also grew more defined: Lucy both advised and harassed him, and the unseen Little Red-Haired Girl became the object of his unrequited love. When girls started to actually like Charlie Brown, such as Peppermint Patty, he often reacted with awkwardness, and tried to avoid the subject.


Snoopy Throughout the Years

Schulz said, “Snoopy was the slowest to develop, and it was his eventually walking around on two feet that turned him into a lead character.”


Charles M. Schulz
Peanuts
September 20, 1952
Original Artwork

When asked which of his characters changed the most, Schulz responded that Snoopy, whom he first drew as a puppy, saw the most significant revisions, both in personality, and outward appearance. In the earliest years of Peanuts, Snoopy looked like a normal dog that walked on four legs, barked, and enjoyed playing catch. Over time, his increasingly humanistic thinking emerged.


Charles M. Schulz
Peanuts detail
January 31, 1954
Original Artwork

Most readers think of Snoopy’s doghouse from the side. In the beginning, however, it was not only shown from the front, but also had Snoopy’s name on it. In later years, Schulz felt that the doghouse viewed from the side represented an essential part of Snoopy’s fantasy world. If viewers saw the doghouse from the front or its interior, the universe Snoopy inhabited suddenly became too real. Schulz explained, “Snoopy himself had become a character so unlike a dog that he could no longer inhabit a real doghouse.”


Charles M. Schulz
Peanuts
January 26, 1981
Original artwork

Snoopy began using his imagination to dream of being a World Famous Author, Flying Ace, and Joe Cool, among more than 100 additional personas. Using this model, “The strip took on a completely new dimension,” noted Schulz.


Lucy Throughout the Years

“At first Lucy was cute: then crabby; then a fuss-budget.” --Charles M. Schulz


Charles M. Schulz
Peanuts
March 24, 1952
Original Artwork

Introduced to Peanuts as a toddler in 1952, Lucy initially had round, doll-like eyes. At the suggestion of an editor, Schulz modified this, and began drawing half-circles on the sides of her eyes instead. When her brothers Linus and Rerun debuted, they featured this same physical trait.


Charles M. Schulz
Peanuts
May 19, 1970
Original artwork

As Lucy evolved, Schulz acknowledged, “Lucy is the part of me that’s capable of saying mean, sarcastic things . . . It’s nice to have someone who can do that . . . Yet Lucy has her soft, vulnerable side.”


Linus Throughout the Years

“Linus is strong enough to carry a strip by himself. His biggest weakness, of course, is the blanket.” --Charles M. Schulz


Charles M. Schulz
Peanuts
November 17, 1953
Original Artwork

Like his sister Lucy, Linus also debuted in Peanuts as a toddler. He aged fast, and became a close confidant and friend to Charlie Brown. His blanket became his trademark, an element inspired by Schulz’s own blanket-toting children. Linus and his purity of heart helped make his belief in the Great Pumpkin conceivable to readers, along with other storylines that gave emphasis to his varied eccentricities.


Charles M. Schulz
Peanuts
February 21, 1962
Original Artwork

In 1962, Schulz briefly drew Linus with eyeglasses, perhaps as a nod to his intellectualism. Schulz found, however, that glasses interfered with the expression lines, and Schulz quickly returned to drawing Linus without them.


Schroeder Throughout the Years

As a young man, Schulz caddied with a friend whose last name was Schroeder. Added to the Peanuts repertory in 1951, Schroeder first appeared in Peanuts as a toddler, but aged quickly. Schulz gave him a toy piano after purchasing a similar one for his daughter Meredith. Playing Beethoven sonatas with the black keys painted on, Schroeder celebrates the birth of his favorite composer each year. He regularly plays catcher for Charlie Brown’s baseball team, and contends with Lucy, who vies for his attention in vain.


Charles M. Schulz
Peanuts
October 2, 1951
Original Artwork

The music in this comic strip is an excerpt from Beethoven, Opus 13/II, Adagio cantabile from Sonata #8 (“Pathetique”). Though painstaking, Schulz enjoyed carefully copying authentic sheet music in cartoons that featured Schroeder, and knowledgeable readers liked to identify the music. Identified by William Meredith, Ph.D., Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, San Jose State University.


Pig Pen Throughout the Years

From his first debut in 1954, to his last in 1999, Pig Pen evolved in the way that Schulz portrayed his messiness, as well as in the way he wrote the name itself, with it sometimes including a hyphen (Pig-Pen), and other times without.


Charles M. Schulz
Peanuts
October 20, 1981
Original artwork

In spite of his popularity with fans, Pig Pen was featured in just over 100 comic strips of the 17,897 Peanuts cartoons that Schulz created. Generating new storylines suited to Pig Pen’s messiness proved challenging for Schulz, who explained, “Usually, I just run out of ideas for him, but somehow he keeps hanging in there.”


Sally Throughout the Years

Sally joined the Peanuts Gang as a toddler in 1959.

“Sally stands for all the frustration and confusion that little kids experience at school. She is a favorite of many people because she is so uninhibited.” --Charles M. Schulz


Charles M. Schulz
Peanuts
February 20, 1988
Peanuts strip image

Schulz saw charm in the way Sally humorously fractured the English language, and her school reports served as a basis for especially whimsical wordplay. She also adopted personal philosophies such as, “Who Cares?” “Life Goes On,” and “How Should I Know?” Sally can also be characterized by her efforts to win the attention of Linus, who she called her “Sweet Babboo,” and kept company while waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive. With all of her various peculiarities, such as talking to school buildings, her older brother Charlie Brown understood her no better than he did the other girls.


Charles M. Schulz
Peanuts
August 31, 1953
Original Artwork

“Comic strip characters . . . come and go quickly.” --Charles M. Schulz

In the earliest years of Peanuts, Violet and Patty were the only two girls in the comic strip. They teamed up to taunt the other characters, especially Charlie Brown. Over the years, they changed only slightly in appearance. With near identical personalities, Patty and Violet gradually faded from the panels of Peanuts as Lucy became the more dominant curmudgeon.


Charles M. Schulz
Peanuts
August 23, 1966
Original Artwork

A dish of candy inspired the name for Peppermint Patty. “I just created the character and gave her the name so that no one else would steal it before I used it,” Schulz said. Years after her introduction to Peanuts, Schulz gave Peppermint Patty a surname-Reichardt. The name derived from his then-recently married secretary, Sue Reichardt, who recalled being pleasantly surprised at finding her name in the cartoon.


Charles M. Schulz
Peanuts
July 20, 1971
Original Artwork

This is one of the earliest Peanuts cartoons to feature Marcie. Schulz named her after a friend of his two youngest daughters. Having met Peppermint Patty at summer camp, Marcie calls her “sir” out of respect and misguided etiquette.


Charles M. Schulz
Peanuts
July 31, 1968
Original Artwork

This comic strip represents the first appearance of Franklin. Los Angeles schoolteacher, Harriet Glickman, felt that a popular cartoon like Peanuts could help sway American attitudes on race, and her letters to Schulz prompted Franklin’s debut in the summer of 1968. Schulz said that his first Franklin cartoons “brought the strongest criticism I remember. There weren’t many letters, but they were quite vehement.” As time went on, Franklin became a familiar presence in Peanuts, exchanging humorous classroom dialogue with Peppermint Patty, playing on the neighborhood baseball team, and sharing stories about his grandfather with Charlie Brown.


Charles M. Schulz
Peanuts
May 24, 1961
Peanuts strip image

Although Frieda remained with Peanuts throughout the cartoon’s history, she faded from the comic strip soon after her 1961 debut. Known by her “naturally curly hair,” Schulz may have had trouble thinking up new jokes centered on Frieda’s favorite personal attribute. When he later added her pet cat Faron (named after Faron Young, a country singer that he admired), Schulz recognized his mistake in doing so. He discovered that he could not draw a cat very well, and also felt that Faron’s presence made Snoopy seem too much like a real dog.


Charles M. Schulz
Peanuts
February 10, 1996
Peanuts strip image

“I've been drawing birds in the strip for some time--at least 10 years. At one point I began to draw the bird a little better. I needed a name for him, and with the Woodstock festival being so prominent in the news, I said 'Why not?’” --Charles M. Schulz

In 1970, Schulz named Woodstock, and the little yellow bird of Peanuts quickly captured the hearts of fans. Together with Snoopy, he pondered the philosophies of life, went camping with the Beagle Scouts, and explored the bonds of friendship.


Toys Over Time

Just as the characters from Peanuts comic strips have evolved over time, so too have the toys modeled after them.

(from left to right)
Charlie Brown Doll, Hungerford Plastics Corporation, 1958
Charlie Brown Bobblehead, Lego, 1959
Charlie Brown Pocket Doll, Determined Productions, Inc., circa 1966