Come on kids. Let’s all hop into the Wayback Machine once again and return to March 3, 1951. That was the date Watch Mr. Wizard first aired on NBC. But who was Mr. Wizard and what was it all about?
Mr. Wizard was actually Don Herbert. He was a general science and English major at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse who was interested in drama. His career as an actor was interrupted by World War II when he enlisted in the United States Army as a private.
Herbert later joined the United States Army Air Forces, took pilot training, and became a B-24 bomber pilot who flew combat missions with the Fifteenth Air Force. When Herbert was discharged in 1945, he was a captain and had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters.
After the war, Herbert worked at a radio station in Chicago where he acted in children's programs such as the documentary health series It's Your Life (1949). It was during this time that Herbert formulated the idea of Mr. Wizard and a general science experiments show that utilized the new medium of television.
Watch Mr. Wizard was a television program for children in the 1950s that was basically a general science experiment program that explained the science behind ordinary things. It was aired weekly as a 30 minute program. Every Saturday a neighbor boy (Jimmy) or girl would come to visit Mr. Wizard. He always had some type of laboratory experiment going that taught something about science. The experiments, many of which seemed impossible at first glance, were usually simple enough to be re-created by viewers.
One of my favorite episodes was the day he floated a huge bolt and nut in a bowl of mercury. I was fascinated. My father took me downstairs and gave me a small, dark amber glass bottle filled with the liquid metal. At that time, we had no idea of the danger of handling mercury, and my father unscrewed the lid of the bottle and poured the mercury into his hand. It was quite impressive to a nine year old.
The show was very successful, and by 1954 it was being broadcast by 91 stations. Mr. Wizard Science Clubs were started throughout North America, numbering 50,000 by 1965. The show moved from Chicago to New York on September 5, 1955, and had produced 547 live broadcasts by the time the show was canceled in 1965.
The show was cited by the National Science Foundation and American Chemical Society for increasing interest in science, and Herbert won a Peabody Award.