For many people, the name “Mister Rogers” immediately brings back wonderful memories of the television show titled “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” which aired in 1968 and went on to become one of the most beloved children’s shows in history. “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” ran for over 30 years—it’s last original episode was broadcast in August 2001. In that time, the show entertained and educated millions of children. Re-runs are still popular today, especially via online platforms like YouTube.
“Mister Roger’s Neighborhood” was the brain child of Fred Rogers, a minister and songwriter who wanted to use television as a tool to educate young children. Born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, on March 20, 1928, Fred Rogers was one of two children (he had a sister) in a tight knit family that enjoyed music. In 1952, Fred Rogers earned a Bachelor’s degree in Music Composition from Rollins College in Florida. He married Sarah Byrd (who he met in college) a year later. Fred and Sarah remained married for the rest of his life and had two sons together.
When Fred Rogers first saw television he was unimpressed with its content. The first program he ever saw was a comedy that depicted people throwing pies at one another. Fred Rogers thought that television could be far more useful than mere folly. In 1951, he applied for a job at NBC and was hired as part of the production staff for music-centered programs such as “NBC Opera Theater.” In 1954, Fred Rogers started working at a Pittsburgh public television station known as WQED as a puppeteer for a children’s show called “The Children’s Corner.” He helped to develop many of the characters and songs for that show.
In 1963, Fred Rogers moved to Toronto, Canada. While he was there the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) contracted him to create a 15 minute children’s program. The show proved to be extremely popular with children even though it only ran for three seasons. Fred Rogers returned to the United States in 1966 and moved his Canadian show back to WQED in Pittsburgh. At that time, the whole country did not get the show but Pittsburgh, Boston, New York, Washington D.C, and other surrounding areas were familiarized with “Mister Rogers.” In February of 1968, PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) started distributing “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and subsequently gave it national fame and success. Alongside “Sesame Street,” “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood” was a powerhouse program for PBS which quickly became synonymous with quality children’s television.
In 1969 the United States Government wanted to cut funds to PBS. In response, Fred Rogers, then still virtually unknown by the majority of the population, went to Washington D.C. and appeared before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications in support of PBS. In a six-minute testimony, Fred Rogers explained that television could be used as a tool of social, emotional and academic education that would encourage children to grow up to become more productive citizens. Fred Rogers’ speech was honest and touching and the chairman of the subcommittee confessed to being moved by his words. Subsequently, PBS funding was increased from $9 to $22 million!
In 1971, Fred Rogers formed Family Communications Inc. (FCI) which served as the production part of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” As of 2013, the company is still in operation and it still produces a number of children’s programs and educational materials for small children—keeping Fred Rogers’s legacy alive.
Fred Rogers was known to be a very soft spoken and easygoing man. He lived a peaceful life of routine and continued working on television until he was in his 70s. Fred Rogers was also noted as having the same on-screen persona even when he was off-screen. Sadly, in December of 2002 Fred Rogers was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He succumbed to it only two months later on February 27, 2003. He was 74 years old. His death made headlines all over the world, with many people expressing grief at his loss while also celebrating the wonderful creations and contributions he made to the world.
Although Fred Rogers is gone, his legacy lives on in the content he left behind. He is a testament to the fact that one person can make a big difference and make the world a better place. Everyone should strive to be as considerate as he was.