Mr. Wizard, one of commercial television's early educational
efforts was highly successful in making science exciting and understandable
for children. Presenting scientific laboratory demonstrations and
information in an interesting, uncomplicated and entertaining format,
this long running series was a prime example of the Chicago School
of Television and of quality education in a visual format. Created
and hosted by Don Herbert, the show's low key approach, casual ad
lib style and resourceful often magic-like demonstrations led to
rapid success and brought Herbert instant recognition and critical
acclaim as an innovative educational broadcaster and as a teacher
Jeffry Herbert, a general science and English major at LaCrosse
State Teachers College in Wisconsin, had originally planned to teach
dramatics. Following his graduation in 1940, he acted in summer
and winter stock and then traveled to New York with an eye toward
Broadway. World War II interrupted his career and the young actor
entered the Army Air Forces as a private. As a B-24 bomber pilot,
he flew 56 missions with the Fifteenth Air Force and subsequently
participated in the invasion of Italy. Discharged as s Captain in
1945, Herbert had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and the
Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters.
After the war, Herbert accepted offers of radio work in Chicago.
He acted in such children's programs as Captain Midnight, Jack
Armstrong and Tom Mix and sold scripts to Dr. Christian,
Curtain Time and First Nighter. In October 1949, as co-producer
of the documentary health series It's Your Life, he was able to
combine his interests in science and drama. Most importantly, his
idea for Mr. Wizard began to take form. He became fascinated
with general science experiments and studied television as a medium
sold his idea for Mr. Wizard to WNBQ-TV, the Chicago outlet
for NBC and the series premiered on 3 March 1951, with Herbert as
the Wizard and Bruce Lindgren as the first of his young assistants.
Produced in cooperation with the Cereal Institute, Incorporated,
the 30-minute show was targeted at pre-teenagers and initially broadcast
on Saturdays from 4:00-4:30 P.M.
four months the series had climbed to third place among children's
programs in ARB ratings and its audience was growing. Chicago's
Federated Advertising Club created an award especially for the show
and the Voice of America entered a standing order for recorded transcripts
of each program. Within two years, approximately 290 schools were
using the series as required homework. In its quiet way, wrote Variety
on 10 September 1952, "this cleverly contrived TV tour into
the world of science probably adds as much to NBC's prestige as
some of the network's more highly touted educational ventures."
1954. Watch Mr. Wizard was seen live on 14 stations and via
kinescope on an additional 77. The National Science Foundation (NSF)
cited Herbert and his show for promoting interest in the sciences
and the American Chemical Society presented him their first citation
ever awarded for "important contributions to science education."
Three years into his network run, there were more than 5,000 Mr.
Wizard Science Clubs across North America with a membership totaling
in excess of 100,000.
the decline of Chicago as a production center. Herbert moved his
show to New York in 1955. During this time, he would win a number
Of national awards including the prestigious Peabody Award and three
Thomas Alva Edison National Mass Media Awards. The total number
of Mr. Wizard fan clubs would increase nearly tenfold to
50,000, Notwithstanding these accomplishments, NBC canceled the
series on 5 September 1965.
Herbert's abilities as a teacher-producer of quality televised science
education led him to the National Educational Television network
where he produced a series of shows under the title Experiment (1966).
He also produced films for junior and senior high schools, wrote
a number of books on science and developed the Mr. Wizard Science
Center outside of Boston. On 11 September 1971 NBC revived Watch
Mr. Wizard but Herbert's old leisurely pace of the 1950s seemed
outdated and the show left the air on 2 September 1972.
by his second cancellation, and challenged by the NSF to create
an awareness of science in children, in the early 1970s Herbert
and his wife Norma developed Mr. Wizard Close-Ups for broadcast
on NBC's daily morning schedule. At the end of the decade, the husband
and wife team also developed traveling elementary school assembly
programs featuring young performers and live science demonstrations.
By 1991, these tours were annually presenting programs to approximately
3,000 schools and 1.2 million students.
With NSF and General Motors financial backing, in 1980 Herbert began
production of How About--a long running series of 80-second reports
on developments in science and technology to be used as inserts
in local news programs across the country. In time, the series would
earn special praise from the American Association for the Advancement
of Science-Westinghouse Science Journalism awards committee. Not
content to rest on his laurels, in 1984 Herbert developed an updated
and faster-paced Mr. Wizard's World that was seen three times
a week on Nickelodeon, the children's cable network.
In 1991, Herbert received the Robert A, Millikan award from the
American Association or Physics Teachers for his "notable and creative
contributions to the teaching of physics." Three years later, in
his late 70s, he developed another new series, Teacher to Teacher
with Mr. Wizard--a series of NSF sponsored 15 minute programs
airing on Nickelodeon and highlighting exemplary elementary science
teachers and projects. In addition, the seemingly indefatigable
Herbert created. among others--Mr. Wizard Science Secrets kits with
clips from Watch Mr. Wizard and a Mr. Wizard Science Video
Library with 20 videos from the Mr. Wizard's World series.
March, 1984, Herbert told Discovery magazine his purpose in life
was not to teach but to have fun. "I just restrict myself to fun
that has scientific content." Fortunately, for generations of children
and adults attracted to his Mr. Wizard persona, this soft-spoken,
Minnesota-born personality had the ability to communicate and inspire
in others his passion for the "fun" to be had with science.
Watch Mr. Wizard
Photo courtesy of Don Herbert
(as Mr. Wizard)
James Pewolar, 1955-65; Del Jack, 1971-72
May 1951-February 1952 Saturday
March 1952-February 1955
September 1971-September 1972
"AAPT Recognizes Herbert, Creators of Mr. Wizard TV Series." Physics
Today (New York), November 1991.
Helen. "Mr. and Mrs. Wizard." Radio-Tv Mirror (New York),
K.C. "Poof! Mr. Wizard Makes a Comeback." Discover (Los Angeles),
Dismuke, Diane. "Meet: Don 'Mr. Wizard' Hebert." NEA Today
(Washington, D.C.), April 1994.
Stuart. Kid's TV: The First 25 Years. New York: Facts on
File Publications, 1983.
Kramer, Carol. "His Wizardry Makes Aerodynamics Snappy." Chicago
Tribune, 31 October 1971.
Lee. "Mr. Wizard's Science Reports for Adults." Chicago Sun Times,
26 March 1980.
Wizard." Variety (Los Angeles), 7 March 1951. "Mr. Wizard." Variety
(Los Angeles), 10 September 1952.
'Wizard's' Wizardry Clinches 54-Station Ride." Variety (Los
Angeles), 18 March 1953.
Robert A. Millikan Medal." The Physics Teacher (Stony Brook,
New York), November 1991.
"'Wizard' Hot on Kinnies." Variety (Los Angeles), 13 January