Mr. Wizard Was the Original Science Guy

Photo Credit: Nickelodeon

Way before Bill Nye there was another science guy, but he was known as Mr. Wizard.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Don Herbert hosted Watch Mr. Wizard, which aired from 1951 to 1965 on NBC. On the show, Herbert showed kids physics at work in their everyday lives. He even had children assist him with experiments that entertained like magic tricks – except he always showed the science behind each “trick.”

He even talked about animals and how they (gasped) reproduced and how long gestation could be. This was in a time when even the word “pregnancy” was considered off-limits on television.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Born in Waconia, Minnesota, July 10, 1917, Herbert spent much of his childhood in the Boy Scouts where he developed an interest in science. In 1940, he graduated with a degree in English and general science from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, which was know then as La Crosse State Teachers College.  But, instead of teaching, he followed his acting dreams to New York City. While in New York, he worked as a pageboy at NBC, acted with Nancy Reagan and appeared on Broadway.

Then, shortly after the United States entered World War II, Herbert joined the Army Air Forces. Herbert was eventually awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal for his contributions, including piloting a B-24 bomber in 56 European bombing missions and assisting in the invasion of Italy.

After the war, Herbert moved to Chicago with hopes of getting back into entertainment. He joined the NBC affiliate there and agreed to host a science-based show. In 1951, Watch Mr. Wizard was born. It was a casual show, with Herbert in short sleeves using common household items for his experiments. His goal was to entertain children. If they learned anything, or even tried the experiments at home, then that was a bonus.

His show was so popular among children and adults that it ran for 14 years before cancelling. But even after cancellation, Herbert knew he still had much to teach, so he produced films for in-classroom use. Whenever he made an appearance, he was usually introduced as Mr. Wizard, even years later.

Photo Credit: Nickelodeon

Nickelodean agreed to buy 26 episodes of Mr. Wizard’s World in 1983, and Mr. Wizard was back! At least until 1990, when it went back off the air.

Don Herbert died in 2007 at the age of 89, but he will always be remembered for encouraging boys and girls to pursue higher education and careers in science.