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The Fascinating History of Mr. Rogers

A Photograph of Mister Rogers in the late 1960s

Fred Rogers, as known as Mr. Rogers, was an innovator of children’s television who remains an icon of kindness for ages. His down-to-earth manners and polite nature taught a generation of kids the real value of kindness. In this article, we will talk about the fascinating history of Mr. Rogers in terms of interesting facts and things you might not know about him. So, without any further ado, let’s get going.

Who Was Mister Rogers?

Fred McFeely Rogers was born on March 20, 1928, in a small industrial town of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, situated near Pittsburgh. Like most kids, childhood wasn’t a particularly good time for Rogers because he had asthma and was bullied by everyone in school because he was a chubby kid. This is why he started playing with puppets so he can work out the root causes of his anxiety and have fun while doing so.

He was a loner, but he didn’t want to waste his precious time thinking about the things that depressed him a lot, so he started playing piano and organ, and then eventually began composing songs. He composed about 150 songs in his lifetime.

Main Street

Here are some fascinating facts from the history of Mr. Rogers:

Fred Rogers Was Bullied As a Child

According to the director of the 2010 documentary Mister Rogers & Me, who also happened to be Roger’s neighbor on Massachusetts’s Nantucket Island, Rogers was a shy little chubby kid who was bullied and regularly taunted by his classmates.

Rogers said,“I used to cry to myself when I was alone, and I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.”

Rogers Was a Pacifist

Mr. Rogers was an uncompromising Pacifist. When his show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was released nationally in 1968, during the peak of the Vietnam War, he dedicated his first week of programming to share his beliefs against the war.

Rogers Left Dartmouth College after One Year

Fred Rogers was an Ivy League dropout who spent his freshmen year at Dartmouth College, and then he transferred to Rollins College to pursue a degree in music.

Rogers Wasn’t a Vegetarian until the Early 1970s

Rogers became a vegetarian in the early 1970s. He said that he could not eat anything that had a mother (beef, mutton, or chicken). In the mid-1980s, he became co-owner of Vegetarian Times, which is a popular magazine having amazing features and recipes. Also, he signed his name to a statement protesting the wearing of animal furs in 1985.

He Was a Talented Musician

When Rogers found out that he had a liking for music, he transferred to Rollins College where he pursued a degree in Music and graduated Magna cum laude. Not just he was a fantastic pianist, but also an incredible songwriter.

He Loved To Play Piano for Releasing His Stress

Whenever Rogers felt depressed or worried about anything, he would play Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood theme song on his piano to calm his nerves and relax.

Rogers Wasn’t a Cold Warrior

Rogers never supported the Cold War because he was a big promoter of peace and kindness. In 1987, when the heat between the U.S and the Soviet Union was beginning to rise, Rogers traveled to Moscow and made an appearance in a Soviet children’s TV show called Spokoinoi Nochi, which translates to “Good Night, Little Ones.”

He Was The Lyrist For Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

As mentioned above, Rogers was an accomplished musician and songwriter; he wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood – and many more.

He Followed a Strict Daily Routine

Rogers never got lazy when it came to his daily routine. He used to wake up at sharp 5 a.m. and made time for prayer as well as some writing, swimming, phone calls, studying, and responding to his fan mail.

He Responded To Every Fan Letter He Received

Being a sweetheart, Rogers never disappointed his fans by not replying them. He took time out of each day to read his fan mail and responding to each letter he received – about 50 to 100 letters per day. Heather Arnet, who was the assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, said that Rogers never thought of throwing out a letter or drawing he received as they were very sacred to him.

Rogers Was Committed To Racial Diversity

Rogers and François Clemmons (black police officer) reprising their famous foot bath in 1993

When the inner-city riots erupted following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. Rogers introduced a new character of a black police officer in his show who kept everyone safe in the neighborhood. This shows how he opposed racism and loved people from every walk of life.

He Used To Weigh Himself on a Regular Basis

Rogers weighed 143 pounds, which isn’t just an ordinary number – it had a special meaning to him. He said that it takes one letter to say I, four letters to say Love, and three letters to say You, hence One Hundred and Forty-Three.

Nothing Was Too Big or Small For Mr. Rogers to Open His Heart About

As long as he worked with children, he never felt hesitant in speaking openly about his and their feelings on every type of topic, from why kids should not be afraid of haircuts to war and divorce. He wanted the kids to know about everything, so they don’t have to go through the harsh times as he went.

Rogers Talked To Kids in A Special Way

Mr. Rogers knew very well how children think and feel and what they feared and liked the most. This is why he chose his words carefully, so he never confuses or upsets his devoted viewers. The author of the book “The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers”, Maxwell King, wrote that Mr. Rogers carefully chose his words while filming Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

He completely understood that children think in a literal way, and a line that may sound perfectly fine to adult ears could be misinterpreted by his younger audience. Rogers was a genius person who was best at imagining where children’s minds might go. For this reason, he wrote the song “You Can Never Go down the Drain” because he knew that this might be a fear shared by many children.

Rogers Used King Friday To Make Friday The 13th Less Horrible For Children.

If you are a fan of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, then you might be familiar with King Friday XIII as well, who reigned over Calendarland – he was born on Friday the 13th. This is why his birthday was celebrated on the program every Friday the 13th. Although it may sound quite weird for non-fiction fans that the King’s birthday was celebrated every Friday the 13th, according to Timeanddate.com, Friday the 13th sometimes happens about two to three times a year.

Rogers also explained the reason behind this whole thing – he said that he intended to give children a reason to look forward to Friday the 13th instead of considering it as a superstition that surrounds the feared date.

Rogers Never Used Foul Language Neither He Was A Fan of It

He used the word Mercy when he sat down his desk in the morning and saw a bundle of fan mail awaiting him. He used this word to express how overwhelmed he felt seeing all those letters. Actually, Mercy was the strongest word in his vocabulary.

The Stoplight Was Always Yellow In the Opening Sequence of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

There was a reason why the spotlight in the opening sequence of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was always yellow. It was a reminder to kids and their parents – to slow down a little (teaching patience).

Rogers Always Announced That He Was Feeding His Fish for a Particular Reason

Once, a young blind viewer asked Rogers to feed his fish, and he mentioned out loud that he was feeding fish because once a young blind viewer asked him to do so. She just wanted to know if the fish were fine.

Rogers Never Did Ad-Lib

Rogers wanted that every word that he spoke in his show was well thought out because he believed that he owed it to the kids who watched his show. Also, Rogers was a perfectionist and never wanted to speak anything unintentionally – this is the reason why he disliked ad-libbing.

All of Rogers’ Sweaters Were Knitted By His Mother

If you were a fan of Mr. Rogers’s sweaters that he wore in the show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, then there is sad news for you – you will never be able to find the same sweater in a store because all his sweaters were knitted by his mom, Nancy. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Rogers said: “And so until she died, those zippered sweaters I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother.”

One of Rogers’s Sweaters is displayed in the Smithsonian

One of Rogers's Sweaters is displayed in the Smithsonian

Rogers donated one of his iconic sweaters to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American history, in 1984.

Rogers Was Partly Responsible for Helping save Public Television

Rogers went before the senate in 1969, when he was relatively unknown, to plead for a $20 million grant for public broadcasting, which was already pleaded by President Johnson but was at risk of being reduced by 50% by Richard Nixon. He was so passionate about his plea that he told them how TV had the potential to turn kids into responsible and productive citizens in the future.

The outcome was remarkable – instead of cutting the budget, funding for Public TV was increased to $22 million from $9 million.

Rogers Also Played an Important Role to Save the VCR

Only a few people know this that Rogers managed to convince the Supreme Court judge that using VSRs to record a TV show at home after it went live should not be considered as a form of copyright infringement. Rogers also stated that recording a program like his own allowed the parents to sit down with their children and watch the show as a family, later. This happened years after he appeared before Senate.

Rogers Was Colorblind

Although those brightly colored, beautiful sweaters that Rogers’ mom knitted were a trademark of the show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, he wasn’t able to notice them because he was colorblind.

Just a few days after his passing, in 2003, an article was published in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that wrote:

“Among the forgotten details about Fred Rogers is that he was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup.”

Most of the Characters on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Were Named After People in Rogers’s Life

Not all but many of the characters on his show Mister Roger’s Neighborhood were named after people in his life. For example, McFeely was Roger’s grandfather’s name, and Queen Sara was the name of Roger’s wife.

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