15 Heartwarming Facts About Pittsburgh Native Fred Rogers

Pennsylvania_PA_Rogers_Titan_1 Fred Rogers rehearses with some of his puppet friends in Pittsburgh on Jan. 4, 1984. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, file)
Fred Rogers rehearses with some of his puppet friends in Pittsburgh on Jan. 4, 1984. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, file)


Fred Rogers, who many know simply as Mister Rogers, was a kind man who had much in common with his beloved children's show character.

He was born in the Pittsburgh suburb of Latrobe and spent almost his entire career in southwestern Pennsylvania. Here are some facts and trivia about Rogers and his television career.


He composed and wrote lyrics to more than 200 songs.

He began playing piano when he was 5 years old and earned a bachelor's degree in music composition from Rollins College, where he met his future wife.

Rogers' role on "The Children's Corner" involved composing music to go with host Josie Carey's lyrics. He continued to use his musical background in later programs. He composed and wrote lyrics to more than 200 songs during the course of his career.

He responded to every letter.

He respected all the children who wrote to him, most of whom were grappling with issues or seeking comfort. In the beginning, he and his wife Joanne would pen responses on their dining room table. Later on, he received 50-100 letters every day and would oversee the responses from his assistants before signing each letter.

"He respected the kids who wrote [those letters]," assistant Heather Arnet told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005. "He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."

He became a minister after starting his TV career.

When he wasn't filming the show, Rogers studied at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1963 and sought to work with children through media.

Rogers studied child development and consulted experts for the show.

In addition to his theological studies, Rogers took courses at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Child Development. There he met Dr. Margaret McFarland; director of the Arsenal Family and Children's Center in Pittsburgh; Dr. Benjamin Spock; and Erik Erikson. All of those experts helped shape Rogers' ideas for how to connect with children through his show.


His mother knit all of his sweaters.

She knitted at least one sweater every month of the year. At Christmas, she would offer them as presents.

"We'd all try on the sweaters and then she would say, 'OK, now what kind do you want next year? Now I know what you want, Freddie, you want the one with the zipper up the front.'"

Rogers was colorblind.

He mentions it in one episode of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." Mr. McFeeley shows Rogers a few of his Speedy Delivery shirts in different colors and Rogers comments, "I don't see colors very well."


He shared a song in the Senate.

Rogers pleaded for funding in May 1969 when President Richard Nixon wanted to slash the budget for public television in the midst of the Vietnam War. He won over subcommittee chairman Sen. John Pastore with simple words that illustrated the value of educational television and the words to one of his songs.

"I think it's wonderful," said Sen. Pastore. "I think it's wonderful. Looks like you just earned the 20 million dollars."

He shared a song in the Senate.

Rogers pleaded for funding in May 1969 when President Richard Nixon wanted to slash the budget for public television in the midst of the Vietnam War. He won over subcommittee chairman Sen. John Pastore with simple words that illustrated the value of educational television and the words to one of his songs.

"I think it's wonderful," said Sen. Pastore. "I think it's wonderful. Looks like you just earned the 20 million dollars."

"Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" wasn't his first show.

Rogers saw a program on vacation from college--people were throwing pies at each other--and was appalled at what he saw. That encouraged him to make worthwhile programming and use the technology for more than just a gimmick. He got involved with television right after college, working with NBC in New York.

Shortly thereafter, Rogers got a letter asking him to help start up WQED Pittsburgh as the country's first community-sponsored educational station. He produced "The Children's Corner" with music and puppets, but he never appeared on camera for that live show.

In 1963, he moved to Toronto and created "Misterogers" for CBC. The program was much like its successor and involved Rogers as host and puppeteer. When he returned to Pittsburgh in 1966, the program came along with a few changes. It was called "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" for a while.

When he met Koko the gorilla, she took his shoes off.

Koko, the gorilla who knew 1,000 words in American sign language, regularly watched "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" on television. When he met her for a segment of an upcoming show, she gave him a big hug and took off his shoes just like she saw him do at the beginning of every episode.


He was bullied as a child.

Kids would call him "Fat Freddie." He also spent large amounts of time housebound because of childhood asthma and the industrial air in western Pennsylvania.

Rogers sought comfort from his maternal grandfather, Fred McFeeley, who told him stories and said "I like you just the way you are." He incorporated those lessons of confidence, individuality and reassurance into his television career.

Pennsylvania_PA_Rogers_Titan_2 Fred Rogers, host of the children's television show "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," is shown in this 1969 photo. (AP file)
Fred Rogers, host of the children's television show "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," is shown in this 1969 photo. (AP file)


He weighed 143 pounds almost his whole life.

He weighed himself every morning, and every morning the number was the same. He found particular joy in it and made every effort to not gain weight. Rogers was a vegetarian who avoided smoking and drinking.

"The number 143 means 'I love you.' It takes one letter to say 'I' and four letters to say 'love' and three letters to say 'you.' One hundred and forty-three. 'I love you.' Isn't that wonderful?" he told Esquire in 1998.

He was a vegetarian.

Rogers cited his faith for the dietary choice, saying “I want to be a vehicle for God, to spread his message of love and peace." One of his favorite meals was tofu burgers and beets.

His office had armchairs and a sofa instead of a desk.

Rogers' office at WQED studios was furnished with comfortable seating instead of a desk because he didn't want to have any barriers.

Pennsylvania_PA_Rogers_Titan_3  David Newell as Mr. McFeely holds a replica of the neighborhood trolley in front of King Friday's castle in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe in the Fred Rogers studio at WQED in Pittsburgh Wednesday, November 4, 2009. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
David Newell as Mr. McFeely holds a replica of the neighborhood trolley in front of King Friday's castle in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe in the Fred Rogers studio at WQED in Pittsburgh Wednesday, November 4, 2009. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)


He also co-owned Vegetarian Times in the 1980s.

His office had armchairs and a sofa instead of a desk.

Rogers' office at WQED studios was furnished with comfortable seating instead of a desk because he didn't want to have any barriers.

The trolley traveled 5,000 miles each season.

(This is not a fact about Rogers himself, but it was so fun we had to include it.)

Before his death, he recorded a video for his adult fans.

Rogers wanted to share his thanks to the children who grew up with the program and how much it meant to him that they were passing on the lessons to their own children.

"It's such a good feeling to know that we're lifelong friends," he said.


Staff for Penn Live