The creator of Doctor Dolittle, the chubby, gentle and eccentric animal physician, who learns the language of animals, Hugh Lofting was born in Maidenhead, Berkshire on January 14, 1886, to John Brien Lofting and Elizabeth Agnes Gannon. He was educated at Mount St Mary’s College in Spinkhill, Derbyshire. Although he was interested in writing, he studied civil engineering and architecture in college, attended the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology and graduated from London Polytechnic. He then travelled to Canada as a surveyor and prospector, worked for several railroad companies in West Africa and Cuba before settling in New York where he started writing short stories and sketches about his travels which were published in various magazines and newspapers.
Lofting met his first wife, Flora Small, in 1912. They married the same year and, shortly afterwards, had two children, Elizabeth and Colin. Following the outbreak of the First World War, Lofting's writing career was temporarily put on hold. Initially, he worked for the British Ministry of Information in New York. In 1916, he joined the British army, becoming a member of the Irish Guards. His experience of the cold and indifferent treatment that war-employed animals suffered in the front line served as the inspiration for the character, Doctor Dolittle, a kind doctor that learns the language of animals to better cure them. Doctor Dolittle became the main character in his letters he sent to his children. After becoming injured in France, he was sent back home to the United States.
The family then moved to Connecticut, and Lofting devoted his attention to his writing. His wife and children encouraged him to turn his Dolittle stories into a book. When The Story of Doctor Dolittle appeared in 1920, it won instant success. In 1923, Lofting published his second book, The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, which received critical acclaim, winning the Newbery Medal. Encouraged by the enthusiastic reception of his two books, Lofting produced four more.
In 1927, his wife, Flora, died. The following year he married Katherine Harrower, but after a few months, she became ill with influenza and died. Lofting's health began to decline, perhaps in response to his personal losses. In Dr. Dolittle in the Moon, published in 1928, Lofting tried to get rid of Dr. Dolittle by sending him to the moon. After five years, in 1933, to the great delight of his many readers, he produced Doctor Dolittle's Return, which is considered his last quality work.
In 1935, he married his third and last wife, Josephine Fricker. They moved to Topanga, California. The following year their son, Christopher, was born. Lofting continued to write, but not with the fervour of his early days. The outbreak of the Second World War injected in him a growing pessimism. In Doctor Dolittle and the Secret Lake, published posthumously in 1948, he depicted the biblical story of the flood that produces death and destruction from the animals' point of view. After a two-year-long illness, Hugh Lofting died in Santa Monica, California on September 26, 1947.