Elwyn Brooks White (E.B. to his readers) was born in Mount Vernon on July 11, 1899. After graduating from Cornell University in 1921, White pursued a career in journalism, starting out at the United Press (later UPI) and The American Legion News Service before branching to the Seattle Times and later The New Yorker.
His first children’s book, Stuart Little (1945), was inspired from a dream White had in the spring of 1926 and tells the tale of a mouse living with his human family in New York City.
But it was Maine that was the setting for the inspiration that would make White a permanent part of history. During at stay at his farmhouse in Maine, White took notice of a spider spinning its egg sac in the barn. He went so far as to remove the egg sac from the web and bring it back with him to New York. This was the basis of his signature work, Charlotte’s Web. Published on October 15, 1952, the story centers on the unlikely friendship between Charlotte the spider and a pig named Wilbur.
The perennially beloved book went on to garner the prestigious Newbery Award and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal. White received many other coveted accolades during his illustrious career, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963), the National Medal for Literature (1971), and a Pulitzer Prize special citation (1978).
Far afield from his children’s literature, White also edited and updated William Strunk Jr.’s The Elements of Style in 1959, which TIME named one of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923.
He died on October 1, 1985, from effects related to Alzheimer’s disease.