Mister Rogers Sang Songs and Spoke to Children About Serious Subjects

From The Writer’s Almanac:

It was on this day in 1967 that a show featuring a kindly man in a cardigan debuted on public television and introduced millions of schoolchildren to the concepts of peace, patience, and diversity. “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” would go on to become one of the longest-running children’s program on television.

The show was the brainchild of a Protestant minister and puppeteer, Fred Rogers, who believed children needed a show that placed an emphasis on values, tolerance, self-control, and self-esteem. Rogers started as a puppeteer on a show called The Children’s Corner in Pittsburgh. He created characters like Henrietta Pussycat who lived in a small yellow and orange schoolhouse, and X the Owl who lived in an old oak tree in what became known to millions of children as “The Neighborhood.”

Rogers began each show by entering a door into his fictional home, hanging up his jacket, putting on one of his many cardigans, and trading his dress shoes for blue sneakers. He sang songs, led children on field trips to factories and restaurants, and did crafts and played music. He spoke directly into the camera and often dealt with serious subjects like war, divorce, death, and competition. Rogers said, “The world is not always a kind place. That’s something all children learn for themselves, whether we want them to or not, but it’s something they really need our help to understand.”

His mother knitted all of the cardigans he wore on the show. One of them is hangs in the Smithsonian Museum. On his continued popularity with children he said, “One of the greatest gifts you can give anybody is the gift of your honest self. I also believe that kids can spot a phony a mile away.”

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