Herbert’s weekly, one-half-hour Saturday morning TV show called “Watch Mr. Wizard” first aired on NBC’s affiliate station WMAQ-TV in Chicago, Illinois, in 1951. In his TV laboratory, Herbert simply explained the world of science to children with the use of basic experiments.
He often had a boy or girl aged eight to 13 years on the set to assist him with the experiment because it helped to tell all children that science can be done by anyone.
The show later moved to New York City, where it was seen in over 100 stations across the country. It ran for fourteen years, until 1965, garnering Herbert a Peabody Award, four Ohio State awards, and a Thomas Alva Edison Foundation Award for “Best Science TV Program for Youth”.
Herbert went on to star in “Watch Mr. Wizard”, which ran for one year in 1971, and then “Mr. Wizard’s World”, which ran on the Nickelodeon channel from 1983 to 1990.
Herbert used commonly used items from around the house to illustrate his experiments. Herbert, who devised his own experiments, wanted the children to understand how things worked with the use of already known objects such as paper plates, straws, drinking glasses, and flashlights. He accumulated 18 cabinets of notes from his experiments.
In 1955, about 5,000 Mr. Wizard Science Clubs existed around the United States, with over 100,000 fledgling scientists as members. It is recorded that in the 1960s and 1970s, about one-half of the student applicants to Rockefeller University in New York City for science and medicine degrees cited Mr. Wizard as how they first became interested in science.
Don Herbert was born on July 10, 1917, in Waconia, Minnesota. He and his family moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and then to La Crosse, Wisconsin. Herbert graduated from LaCrosse State Teachers College in 1940. He worked as an actor and stagehand in a Minnesota theater group for a year. In 1941, he moved to New York City. Herbert then enlisted in the Army Air Force and flew 56 missions as a B-24 bomber pilot in Europe. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with three oak-leaf clusters for service to his country.
Herbert wrote several books, including “Mr. Wizard’s Supermarket Science” and “Mr. Wizard’s Experiments for Young Scientists”.
Herbert died from bone cancer at his home in the Bell Canyon area of Los Angeles, California. He was a husband of 34 years to his wife Norma, and a father to two sons and one daughter—from a previous marriage. He had two stepdaughters and one stepson; and he had thirteen grandchildren.
Don Herbert and Mr Wizard will be fondly remembered as the TV scientist wearing the white shirt with rolled up sleeves and tie that taught and inspired budding young scientists with his interesting and informative experiments in basic science.
Thank you Mr. Wizard! Thank you Don Herbert!