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Explaining the mysteries of science for nearly forty years, Mr Wizard became the most recognisable science teacher in the USA. Don Herbert was a World War II pilot and a radio and television actor before he gained his greatest fame as Mr Wizard.
Presenting over 10,000 experiments during his career, Mr Wizard covered everything from air travel to sound speed to chemical reactions and much, much more.
Sometimes, the experiments went awry or didn’t do anything, which could have been a cause of major embarrassment on live TV.
But Mr Wizard never got discouraged. He would repeat the experiment week after week until it behaved as he knew it should.
Part of the show’s success was the fact that everyday household items could be used to conduct the experiments. Instead of using a beaker or flask, for example, Mr Wizard used a milk bottle.
The idea was to show that science was something tangible and accessible to everyone. The philosophy worked, and many people over the years have credited Mr Wizard with their career choices in science and electronics.
Since Mr Wizard was a teacher, he needed students, and so the show gathered a group of “neighbourhood kids,” who were actually young actors hired to be inquisitive.
Although Mr Wizard had file cards with one-word reminders on them, most of the dialogue was improvised, although the audience could always count on at least one “Gee, Mr Wizard!”
Broadcasting from Chicago, the original Watch Mr Wizard ran on NBC for fourteen straight seasons from 1951-65, then left the air for several years.
A one-season revival ran in 1971, but the show came back in force as Mr Wizard’s World on the fledgeling cable network Nickelodeon in 1983. Seven new seasons were produced, stretching Mr Wizard’s legacy into its fifth decade.
After his time on television, Herbert continued his educational work by writing a series of books on his favourite subject.