Fred Rogers

American television personality

Fred McFeely Rogers (March 20, 1928 – February 27, 2003) was an American television personality, musician, puppeteer, writer, producer, and Presbyterian minister. He was the creator, producer, head writer, and host of the children's television show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood from 1968 until he left in 2001. He also wrote the music for the show.[2]

Fred Rogers
Rogers in a publicity photo for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in the 1980's
Fred McFeely Rogers

(1928-03-20)March 20, 1928
DiedFebruary 27, 2003(2003-02-27) (aged 74)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Resting placeUnity Cemetery, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Other namesMister Rogers
Alma materDartmouth College (Transferred)
Rollins College (BM)
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (BD)
Occupation(s)Children's television presenter, actor, puppeteer, singer, composer, television producer, author, educator, Presbyterian minister
Years active1951–2001
Political partyRepublican[1]
Joanne Byrd
(m. 2009)
AwardsPresidential Medal of Freedom (2002)

In the 1950's, Rogers was not happy with the television shows that children were watching. He began to write and perform shows for children near the city of Pittsburgh, USA. In 1968, a television company called Eastern Educational Television Network began distributing Rogers's new show, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, across the United States on the TV channel WQED. For thirty years, Rogers was a television icon of children's entertainment and education.[3]

Rogers supported many public causes. In the Betamax case, the U.S. Supreme Court used what Rogers said before a lower court to support fair use television recording. Rogers also spoke before a U.S. Senate committee to support government money for children's television.

In August 2001, Rogers retired from recording Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. In October 2002, doctors told him he had stomach cancer. He died from the disease a few months later on February 27, 2003. He was 74 years old.

President George W. Bush honored Rogers with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Rogers was also given forty honorary degrees and a Peabody Award. He was added to the Television Hall of Fame. He was number 35 on the TV Guide's Fifty Greatest TV Stars of All Time.[4] The Smithsonian Institution has one of his sweaters as a "Treasure of American History".

Rogers inspired many creators of children's television shows. His shows helped people understand sad and tragic events, even after he died.

Early life


Rogers was born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania to James Rogers and Nancy McFeely.[5] His father was a businessman.[5] His mother came from a rich Pittsburgh family and also was a hospital volunteer during and after World War II.[6] His grandfather from his mother's side, Fred McFeely, was the president of McFeely Brick, one of Latrobe's largest businesses.[7] Rogers grew up in a large brick house at 737 Weldon Street in Latrobe.[6][8]

Rogers with his wife Joanne in 1975

He had an adopted sister named Elaine.[5] Rogers spent much of his free time with his grandfather McFeely, who loved music.[9] Rogers began to play the piano when he was five and sang with his mother.[9]

When growing up, Rogers was shy and overweight.[5] He stayed home from school many times because of his asthma.[5] Rogers had a hard time making friends. He was bullied many times as a little boy for his weight. He was often called "Fat Freddy".[10]

During his high school years in Latrobe, Rogers became more confident and popular.[5] Rogers was president of the student council, a member of the National Honor Society and was editor-in-chief of the yearbook.[5][11] He graduated in 1946.[11] He studied at Dartmouth College from 1946 until 1948[12] and then went on at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida to earn a BA in music composition in 1951.[13]

While studying at Rollins, Rogers met Sara Joanne Byrd who was from Oakland, Florida.[14] They were married on June 9, 1952.[15] They had two sons: James, in 1959, and John, in 1961.[16] Joanne Rogers died in January 2021, aged 92.[17]

Rogers graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and became a minister of the United Presbyterian Church in 1963.[18] Rogers returned to Pittsburgh in the 1960s.[19]

Television career


Early career

Rogers during his high school years in 1946

Rogers entered seminary after college but wanted to work with television.[20] In an interview with CNN, Rogers said he started working in television because he "hated it," but wanted to make it better. He wanted to use TV to help people and teach them about important things.[21] He applied for a job at NBC in New York City in 1951.[22] He worked as an assistant producer. Later, he worked as a network floor director on musical programs such as Your Hit Parade, The Kate Smith Hour, and The Voice of Firestone.[22][23] He also worked on Gabby Hayes's children's show.[24]

Rogers left NBC because he did not approve of the agency using children for advertisement.[25] He began working as a puppeteer on the local children's show The Children's Corner for Pittsburgh public television station WQED in 1954.[25] The show won a Sylvania Award[26] for best children's show and was broadcast nationally on NBC.[27]

Rogers studied theology at the nearby Pittsburgh Theological Seminary during his lunch breaks.[28] However, he did not want to go into preaching and was told to continue making children's television after he became a minister.[28] He worked with the University of Pittsburgh's child development and care program.[29]

In 1963, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) hired Rogers to create the 15-minute children's program Misterogers.[30][31] Rogers moved to Toronto[32] and the series ran for three seasons.[33] Three years later, Rogers moved back to the United States.[34]

In 1966, Rogers got the rights to his program from the CBC and moved the show to WQED in Pittsburgh, where he had worked on The Children's Corner.[35][36]

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood

Rogers and X the Owl on a magazine cover, 1969
François Clemmons and Fred Rogers sharing a kiddie pool

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood began in 1968. The show had 895 episodes.[37] It was shown on National Educational Television, which later became The Public Broadcasting Service.[38] By 1985, eight percent of people living in the United States watched the show.[9] The last shows were made in December 2000 and started to be shown on television in August 2001.[39]

The program always started with Rogers coming home, singing his theme song "Won't You Be My Neighbor?".[40] He would then change into sneakers and a zippered cardigan sweater.[40] The sweaters were all made by his mother.[40] In his show, Rogers would always go on trips, teach new things and show short movies on "Picture, Picture".[41][42] Each show included a trip to Rogers's "Neighborhood of Make-Believe" with a trolley, a castle, and the people who lived in the neighborhood, including King Friday XIII.[43]

Rogers always fed his aquarium fish during the show.[44] He would always tell his audience that he was feeding them. This was because he got a letter from a young blind girl who wanted to know each time he did this.[44][45] The program would end with Rogers singing "It's Such a Good Feeling".[46] Rogers believed in acting normally, not differently when he was being filmed.[47] He said that "One of the greatest gifts you can give anybody is the gift of your honest self."[47] Rogers wrote almost all of the music on the program.[48] He wanted to teach children to love themselves and others, and he talked about common childhood fears with comforting songs.[48] He once took a trip to a children's hospital to show children that a hospital is not a place to fear.[49]

Rogers talked about social issues on his program, such as the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, racism and divorce.[50] In one famous episode, Rogers put his feet in water with Officer Clemmons (François Clemmons), who was African-American, in a kiddie pool on a hot day.[51] The scene was a message of inclusion when racial segregation in the United States was common.[51]

Rogers while recording an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, 1981

Rogers also had children with disabilities on his show.[52] In 1981, Rogers met a young quadriplegic boy named Jeff Erlanger. Erlanger showed Rogers how his electric wheelchair worked and explained why he needed it.[53] Erlanger and Rogers both sang the song "It's You I Like".[53] Before being on the show, Erlanger was a fan of the program. His parents wrote a letter to Rogers asking if they could meet.[52][54]

Rogers ended each program by telling his viewers,

"You've made this day a special day, by just your being you. There's no person in the whole world like you; and I like you just the way you are"[55]

Rogers never talked about his religious beliefs on the show because he did not want any viewer to feel ignored from the show.[56] During the Gulf War, he told his audience that all children in the neighborhood would be well cared for.[57] Rogers asked parents to promise to take care of their children.[57]

In 1990, members of the Ku Klux Klan in Missouri played racist versions of Rogers's songs, so Rogers filed a lawsuit against the White supremacy group.[58] A district court judge in Missouri ordered the Ku Klux Klan to stop using Rogers's songs and to give any records they had to Rogers. The judge said the group had committed copyright infringement.[58]

After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Rogers made public service announcements for parents about how to discuss tragic world news events with their children.[59] He told viewers to "look for the helpers".[59] Many people still share the quote online after tragic news events.[60] Rogers said in the public service announcement,

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world"[61]

Money for PBS


In 1969, Rogers appeared before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications.[62] His goal was to ask the Senate to support PBS with money and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, because of proposed budget cuts.[62] In about six minutes of explanation, Rogers spoke of the need for social and emotional education that public television gave.[62] He argued that other television programming like his Neighborhood helped teach children to become happy citizens.[62]

Rogers speaking before the United States Senate about PBS, 1969

The chairman of the subcommittee, John O. Pastore, did not know Rogers or his work and was sometimes said to be impatient.[62][63] However, after Rogers, Pastore said that what Rogers said was very exciting, and said, "I think it's wonderful. Looks like you just earned the $20 million".[62] The Senate increased money for PBS from $9 million to $22 million.[63]

Role in Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc.


As the issues of households being able to record television programs with a VCR grew, Rogers was active in supporting VCR companies in court.[64] In 1979, in the case Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc., Rogers said he was not against home recordings of his television programs because families could watch them together at a later time.[64]

When the case reached the Supreme Court in 1983, the majority decision used what Rogers had said.[64] The court found that the Betamax video recorder did not commit copyright violations.[64][65] The court said that his views were an important piece of evidence "that many [television] producers are willing to allow private time-shifting to continue".[65]

Other works

Rogers in Moscow, 1988
Daniel "Striped" Tiger puppet

In 1978, while taking a break from making new Neighborhood episodes, Rogers hosted an interview program for adults on PBS called Old Friends...New Friends.[66] On the show, Rogers interviewed "actors, sports stars, politicians, and poets".[67] The show lasted only 20 episodes.[67] In 1988, he appeared on the Soviet children's television show Good Night, Little Ones! where he brought his puppet Daniel Striped Tiger with him.[68]

The only time Rogers appeared on television as someone other than himself was in 1996 when he played a preacher on one episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.[9] Rogers voiced himself on the "Arthur Meets Mister Rogers" episode of the PBS Kids series Arthur.[69]

Personal life

Rogers in Chicago, 1994

Rogers had an apartment in New York City and a summer home on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts.[20] Rogers was red-green color blind.[70] He had a healthy lifestyle as he swam every morning and neither smoked nor drank.[71] He was a vegetarian because he believed eating meat was wrong, saying "I don't want to eat anything that has a mother".[72] Some people thought that Rogers was in the military as a Navy SEAL during the Vietnam War and had tattoos. This is not true.[73]

In 1991, the Pittsburgh Penguins named Rogers as their celebrity captain, as part of a celebration of the National Hockey League's 75th anniversary.[74] Card No. 297 from the 1992 NHL Platinum collection celebrated the event, making Rogers one of only twelve celebrity captains to be chosen for a sports card.[75]

During his morning routine, Rogers responded to all of the mail sent to him by fans and returned them to the people that sent them.[76]

Rogers was a Republican. However, Joanne Rogers said that her husband voted as an independent.[1] She also said he did not talk about politics too much because he did not want to be political.[1]

Rogers retired in 2001, but he kept busy studying religion and spirituality. He traveled and went out in public. He also worked on a children's media center named after him at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe with Archabbot Douglas Nowicki, chancellor of the college.[77]

By the summer of 2002, his constant stomach pain had become painful enough for him to see a doctor about it, and in October 2002 he learned he had stomach cancer.[78][79] He had surgery on January 6, 2003, which was unsuccessful.[80][81] A week earlier, he was grand marshal of the Tournament of Roses Parade, with Art Linkletter and Bill Cosby.[82]

Rogers died on the morning of February 27, 2003, at his home in Pittsburgh.[83] His wife was by his side when he died.[83] He died less than a month before he would have turned 75.[83][84]

On March 1, 2003, a private funeral was held for Rogers in Unity Chapel. Rogers' father had restored the chapel at Unity Cemetery in Latrobe, where Rogers was buried.[85][86] [87] About 80 relatives, co-workers, and close friends came to the service. Plans were secret, so that those closest to him could grieve privately.[86] Reverend John McCall read from the Bible and talked about its meaning. He was pastor of the Rogers family's church, Sixth Presbyterian Church in Squirrel Hill. Reverend William Barker read Rogers's favorite Bible passages. Barker was a retired Presbyterian minister and a close friend of Rogers. Barker was the voice of Mr. Platypus on the show.[86]

More than 2,700 people went to Rogers's public memorial service at Heinz Hall on May 3.[88] Honored guests included former Good Morning America host David Hartman, Teresa Heinz Kerry, PBS President Pat Mitchell, Arthur creator Marc Brown, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar author-artist Eric Carle.[88][89] Speakers remembered Rogers for his humor, and his love of children, his religion, and music.[88][89]

Legacy and honors

Rogers being presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bush, 2002

In 1992, he was awarded the Peabody Award.[90] He was added to the Television Hall of Fame in 1999.[91]

President George W. Bush awarded Rogers the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002 for his works to children's education.[92] He said that Rogers "has a very special place in the heart of a lot of moms and dads all across America."[92] In 2003, the United States Senate passed Resolution 16 to celebrate the life of Rogers.[93] After Rogers's death, the U.S. House of Representatives passed Resolution 111 in 2003. This resolution honored Rogers for the work he did to help children in the United States.[94]

On New Year's Day 2004, Michael Keaton, who worked on stage on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood before becoming an actor, hosted the PBS TV special Fred Rogers: America's Favorite Neighbor. His hometown of Latrobe and Pittsburgh host "Won't You Wear a Sweater Day" to honor Rogers.[95][96] The event takes place every year on his birth date, March 20.[96] In 2003, the International Astronomical Union named the asteroid 26858 Misterrogers after Rogers.[97][98]

The Fred Rogers Memorial Statue in Pittsburgh was built in 2009.[99][100] On June 25, 2016, the Fred Rogers Historical Marker was placed near Latrobe, Pennsylvania in his memory.[101]

In June 2018, the documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor? was released. It was based on Rogers's life and the effect of his work. Reviews were good for it. The movie became the highest money making biography-documentary (biodoc) of all time.[102] Tom Hanks played Rogers in a movie based on his later life titled A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) directed by Marielle Heller.[103][104] Hanks was later nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Rogers.[105]

Rogers was honored on a special United States postage stamp in March 2018.[106] On September 21, 2018, Google Doodle honored him with a stop-motion video of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.[107] On October 23, 2018, during the first game of the 2018 World Series, Rogers's first television commercial was for Google's Pixel 3 smartphone.[108] In the ad, Rogers sings "Did You Know" which was the first time his voice or images has been used in a commercial for a product on television.[108]

Rogers' famous red sweater at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

The Smithsonian Institution bought one of Rogers's famous sweaters. The museum shows it in their "Treasure of American History" exhibit.[109] At the 2020 Academy Awards, Janelle Monáe performed Rogers's "It's a Beautiful Day in This Neighborhood" during the opening ceremony while wearing a red cardigan sweater.[110]

At the 2021 Grammy Awards, Rogers was posthumously awarded the Grammy Award for Best Historical Album for It's Such a Good Feeling: The Best of Mister Rogers.[111]

Honorary degrees


Rogers received honorary degrees from more than 43 colleges and universities. After 1973, two of Rogers's friends made two special quilts to celebrate the degrees. They used cloth from his many graduation robes to make them. The quilts are at the Fred Rogers Center at St. Vincent College in Latrobe.[112][113]


Year Title
1954–1961 The Children's Corner[114]
1963–1966 Misterogers[115]
1964–1967 Butternut Square[115]
1968–2001 Mister Rogers' Neighborhood[115]
1977–1982 Christmastime with Mister Rogers[116]
1978–1981 Old Friends ... New Friends[117]
1981 Sesame Street[118]
1988 Good Night, Little Ones![119]
1991 Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?[120]
1994 Fred Rogers' Heroes[121]
1996 Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman[122]
1997 Arthur[123]
1998 Wheel of Fortune[124]
2003 114th Annual Tournament of Roses Parade[125]

Children's books

The front of the "Tribute to Children" monument in Pittsburgh where a statue of Rogers is also in
A trolley in Oak Park, Illinois decorated to honor Rogers and his show
  • Our Small World (with Josie Carey, illustrated by Norb Nathanson), 1954, Reed and Witting, OCLC 236163646
  • The Elves, the Shoemaker, & the Shoemaker's Wife (illustrated by Richard Hefter), 1973, Small World Enterprises, OCLC 969517
  • The Matter of the Mittens, 1973, Small World Enterprises, OCLC 983991
  • Speedy Delivery (illustrated by Richard Hefter), 1973, Hubbard, OCLC 11464480
  • Henrietta Meets Someone New (illustrated by Jason Art Studios), 1974, Golden Press, OCLC 950967676
  • Mister Rogers Talks About, 1974, Platt & Munk, OCLC 1093164
  • Time to Be Friends, 1974, Hallmark Cards, OCLC 1694547
  • Everyone is Special (illustrated by Jason Art Studios), 1975, Western Publishing, OCLC 61280957
  • Tell Me, Mister Rogers, 1975, Platt & Munk, OCLC 1525780
  • The Costume Party (illustrated by Jason Art Studios), 1976, Golden Press, OCLC 3357187
  • Planet Purple (illustrated by Dennis Hockerman), 1986, Texas Instruments, ISBN 978-0-89512-092-2
  • If We Were All the Same (illustrated by Pat Sustendal), 1987, Random House, OCLC 15083194
  • A Trolley Visit to Make-Believe (illustrated by Pat Sustendal), 1987, Random House, OCLC 17237650
  • Wishes Don't Make Things Come True (illustrated Pat Sustendal), 1987, Random House, OCLC 15196769
  • No One Can Ever Take Your Place (illustrated by Pat Sustendal), 1988, Random House, OCLC 990550735
  • When Monsters Seem Real (illustrated by Pat Sustendal), 1988, Random House, OCLC 762290817
  • You Can Never Go Down the Drain (illustrated by Pat Sustendal), 1988, Random House, ISBN 978-0-394-80430-9
  • The Giving Box (illustrated by Jennifer Herbert), 2000, Running Press, OCLC 45616325
  • Good Weather or Not (with Hedda Bluestone Sharapan, illustrated by James Mellet), 2005, Family Communications, OCLC 31597516
  • Josephine the Short Neck-Giraffe, 2006, Family Communications, OCLC 1048459379
  • A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The Poetry of Mister Rogers Neighborhood (illustrated by Luke Flowers), 2009, Quirk Books, OCLC 1042097615


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