RIP Mr. Wizard
June 12, 2007 4:16 PM   Subscribe

RIP Don Herbert Better known as Mr. Wizard, you taught several generations basic science and a love of experimentation. You will be missed. Sorry for the one-link ObitFilter
posted by JMOZ (103 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The official Mr. Wizard website, with more information.
posted by JMOZ at 4:18 PM on June 12, 2007

Oh man. Bummer.
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:18 PM on June 12, 2007



posted by unrepentanthippie at 4:21 PM on June 12, 2007

Don Herbert, teaching kids to blow things up since 1951 (1951! I had no idea, I watched him during the Nickelodeon years!)

posted by eyeballkid at 4:22 PM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by Gary at 4:22 PM on June 12, 2007

Yeah, I watched him on Nickelodeon too. His show was the only thing that could get me up in time for school (ironically enough). To this day I still show people a trick with a cut and twisted piece of paper that I saw on his show.

posted by inconsequentialist at 4:25 PM on June 12, 2007

posted by subaruwrx at 4:25 PM on June 12, 2007

I was just googling him a few days ago, to see what he was doing these days. I grew up with him, like so many other sciencey kids.

Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to go throw a magnet and some raisin bran in the blender and get the iron filings out. Just like old days.
posted by cobaltnine at 4:27 PM on June 12, 2007

And here I thought he'd already passed away like, at least ten years ago. Smarty-pants got himself a free decade. Totally deserved, of course. Mr. Wizard is essentially Mr. Rogers for geeks: a fatherly figure, a patient teacher, always with plenty of dry ice on hand. My mind works the way it does today at least somewhat in part because of Mr. Wizard.

Good man. Will definitely be missed.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:30 PM on June 12, 2007

He was a joy and inspiration to watch.

posted by about_time at 4:32 PM on June 12, 2007

I will never forget one of the segments on the Nickelodeon incarnation: Mr. Wizard sits down in front of a green-screen PC to demonstrate the magical "global search and replace" function of his word processor. How delightfully quaint to us 21st century netizens!

posted by /\/\/\/ at 4:33 PM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by Neilopolis at 4:34 PM on June 12, 2007

posted by Captain_Science at 4:36 PM on June 12, 2007

posted by nooneyouknow at 4:37 PM on June 12, 2007

I remember that word-processor segment. Good stuff.

When I was about 14, I wrote a series of scripts that portrayed Mister Wizard as a clandestine pervert with borderline personality disorder, less interested in science than in tormenting children. The only detail I can really remember is Mister Wizard saying to a kid, "Hello, Scott. I see you're wearing the dress I gave you." To which Scott replied, "You said you'd beat me again if I didn't wear it."

Yeah, those were the days. That show rocked. I'll miss Don Herbert, in both his real-life and fictional-sociopath incarnations.

posted by hifiparasol at 4:42 PM on June 12, 2007

posted by evilangela at 4:43 PM on June 12, 2007

(On the premiere episode of "Late Night with David Letterman" Dave asks Don Herbert if anyone was ever injured on the "Mr Wizard" show.)

Don "Mr Wizard" Herbert: No, not really, but because of the type of show we were doing anything could happen.

Only once during an experiment where we light a candle under a glass bottle with a little coil next to the wick. And one time in rehearsal we got the wick wet, so when we later set it up and turned the current on, it got hotter and hotter and vaporized the candle so that in the bottle we had a mixture of vaporized paraffin and oxygen and it disappeared from the close up.


Up into the lights. And of course I was shocked because I thought, 'My gosh, the bottle blew up'. Turned out I heard the bottle clang down behind me so I knew -- and the child standing next to me was covered in water, I was too. As soon as I saw she wasn't hurt I got a towel and dried her off and dried myself off. And we went on doing it. -- And that was the only time we ever edited the show -- we cut the laughter of the crew. We could hear them laughing all the way in the control room.

posted by Samizdata at 4:44 PM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by BlackLeotardFront at 4:44 PM on June 12, 2007

Awwww, shit
posted by newfers at 4:46 PM on June 12, 2007

Herbert worked as an actor and model before launching his weekly science show on NBC in 1951.

Um. Model?
posted by hifiparasol at 4:47 PM on June 12, 2007

I loved the episode where they made breakfast outside, using nothing but science.

posted by JohnFredra at 4:53 PM on June 12, 2007 [3 favorites]

Ah, crap.
posted by trip and a half at 4:56 PM on June 12, 2007

posted by 10sball at 4:59 PM on June 12, 2007

Turns out melting ice cubes don't change the water level! I remember being absolutely gobsmacked when I first saw that. Anyway, that's the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Mr. Wizard.

Thanks, Don.
posted by quite unimportant at 5:00 PM on June 12, 2007

posted by glycolized at 5:03 PM on June 12, 2007

Mr. Wizard was to little kids what Mythbusters is to big kids.
posted by Cyrano at 5:06 PM on June 12, 2007 [4 favorites]

posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:09 PM on June 12, 2007

I bet the Mythbusters watched Mr. Wizard.

posted by pmbuko at 5:13 PM on June 12, 2007

Mr. Wizard was the reason I replied "A scientist!", when asked by my mom "What do you want to be when you grown up?"

He was the reason I knew that the thing on the screen was called a cursor. He taught me that if you swallow something while standing on your head it'll still reach your stomach. I remember the demonstration where they lit the balloon full of hydrogen (fucking awesome!). The episode where they tried to drink water through a tube that was running down the side of a multi-story building (it's impossible after a particular floor, the water just weighs too much) still sticks out in my mind. Bernoulli's principle applied to demonstrate how the wings of a plane work. Boyle's law applied to crush a metal can under cool water (caused by the decrease in pressure due to the temp drop). Filling a glass across the room with water by pouring the water on a string.

Wow. I can't tell you the last time I thought of those things. I really really wanted to be on Mr. Wizard, but I remember one episode where they measured G forces on a roller coaster, and I was totally scared of roller coasters, so that kept me from pursuing it in my head.

What we need more of is science.

posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 5:13 PM on June 12, 2007 [4 favorites]

posted by hupp at 5:16 PM on June 12, 2007

posted by drstrangelove at 5:20 PM on June 12, 2007

posted by mrbill at 5:20 PM on June 12, 2007

/moment of science
posted by item at 5:26 PM on June 12, 2007 [7 favorites]

posted by treepour at 5:27 PM on June 12, 2007

Mr. Wizard, along with Bill Nye and Beakman, was one of the people who inspired me to pursue a career in engineering.

posted by malthas at 5:28 PM on June 12, 2007

NO! Fuck.
posted by Skorgu at 5:29 PM on June 12, 2007


I used to get up at 6am when I was in elementary school just to watch an hour of Mr Wizard on Nickelodeon. Thats how compelling it was for me.
posted by SirOmega at 5:30 PM on June 12, 2007

posted by gurple at 5:30 PM on June 12, 2007

I remember him finding the height of a tree with a pan of water, and judging the density of nerve endings in different places with two pins and a ruler. Plus the hydrogen balloon, that was cool.

posted by Who_Am_I at 5:31 PM on June 12, 2007

damn :(

posted by duckstab at 5:39 PM on June 12, 2007

If you remember those two penguins from Beakman's World, they were named Don and Herb after Mr. Wizard.
posted by puke & cry at 5:44 PM on June 12, 2007

posted by cerebus19 at 5:53 PM on June 12, 2007

I still remember the aforementioned water in the tube experiment on the side of a building. That one blew my mind at the time.

he'll be missed. there's very little on TV that's geared towards the same subject with the same class. Mythbusters is the only thing even close really.
posted by inthe80s at 5:59 PM on June 12, 2007

There was a time in this country when science was a playground for kids. I'm so glad that I was just old enough to catch the last bits of it when I was in elementary school.

Evolution used to be accepted as fact, and kids got to immerse themselves in a world of dinosaurs and supermammals without being forced into theological arguments.

We got to do chemistry experiments and make cool yellow flames and purple puffs of smoke without being put on the terrorist watch list.

Mr. Science taught us about kinetic energy by putting us on bikes and sending us downhill at top speed. Nowadays, what kid woud dare race downhill in his neighborhood?

I mourn Mr. Science's passing, but I'm more sorry that there will never, ever be anyone who can carry his torch without the warning, "Don't try this at home."
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 5:59 PM on June 12, 2007 [5 favorites]

Don Herbert showed us the ubiquity, wonder, and accessibility of that thing we call science, and paved the way for science on television. I don't know who else would have taught me to literally play with scientific principles, and make everyday objects do fascinating things. Because of him, I never believed anyone who labeled science "difficult," and although I don't specifically recall many of the tricks from "Mr. Wizard," no trick makes their eyes widen like the ability to refer to science and say, "that's easy."


All of my favorite misters are gone.
posted by zennie at 6:00 PM on June 12, 2007 [2 favorites]

Oh man, that's a serious bummer. (Although I, too, thought he had passed several years ago). The random episode that sticks out in my mind was the one about water conservation, and how much water a dripping faucet wastes in a day, week, month and year. After seeing how many gallon milk jugs got filled up with wasted water, I became a little bit OCD about turning faucets off tightly at home.

For all the cool science, I salute you Mr. Wizard!
posted by thewittyname at 6:07 PM on June 12, 2007

Does anyone else remember when he cut up the banana without peeling it?
posted by gnutron at 6:11 PM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wonderful man. Wonderful show. Watching him as a kid was as fascinating as watching a magic show.
posted by The Deej at 6:12 PM on June 12, 2007

Does anyone else remember when he cut up the banana without peeling it?

Yeah, with a needle and thread or something.
posted by inconsequentialist at 6:12 PM on June 12, 2007

He was always so conscientious. Whenever a kid would appear on his show wearing glasses, he'd always ask "Are those safety glasses?" before engaging the SCIENCE.

Somebody bring me a glass bell jar, a vacuum pump and a bagful of marshmallows.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:13 PM on June 12, 2007

We didn't have cable growing up, but my grandmother did in Florida, so spring breaks and summer vacations in Florida meant getting to catch up on Mr. Wizard episodes. Great stuff.

Will someone please quote some science in this thread?
posted by emelenjr at 6:23 PM on June 12, 2007

I adored Mr. Wizard as a child, and now... oh, that's sad.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:27 PM on June 12, 2007

posted by Smart Dalek at 6:34 PM on June 12, 2007

posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 6:36 PM on June 12, 2007

posted by mayfly wake at 6:38 PM on June 12, 2007

posted by HuronBob at 6:40 PM on June 12, 2007

I loved Mr. Wizard's World when I was a kid. I'd watch that show over and over again (even the reruns). The one segment I remember best involved him showing off his fancy new computer that featured a basic paint program that he and his child assistant used to color a drawing of a space shuttle. Mr. Wizard could totally capture my imagination with common household objects. My parents even bought me his book, Supermarket Science, so we could try some of the experiments at home. I can proudly say that Mr. Wizard is one of the three scientists who've helped make me the man I am today.

The other two are "Doc" Emmett Brown and Dr. Clayton Forrester, but that's another story.
posted by Servo5678 at 6:51 PM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by piratebowling at 6:54 PM on June 12, 2007

posted by Sailormom at 7:05 PM on June 12, 2007

posted by janell at 7:06 PM on June 12, 2007

Just the other day I meant to google him and see if he was still around. I have groggy memories of watching him before going to school in the morning (that, and nick news with linda ellerbee). :

posted by lisawin at 7:17 PM on June 12, 2007

awww. he was so cool.

posted by kalimac at 7:22 PM on June 12, 2007

I loved his book "supermarket science."

posted by fillsthepews at 7:23 PM on June 12, 2007

Upon further research, Don Herbert was born in my brothers birthday (years and years earlier obviously), and now died on my birthday. He was also a WW2 vet.

posted by lisawin at 7:23 PM on June 12, 2007


No, fuck that. Take the ., drop it in liquid nitrogen for a few seconds, and shatter it on the floor to show the science behind cryogenics in a really cool way.

That's what Mr. Wizard would've wanted.
posted by rollbiz at 7:28 PM on June 12, 2007 [2 favorites]

posted by interiority at 7:32 PM on June 12, 2007

gnutron, I not only remember him doing it, but I remember how he did it, with a needle and thread!

What a great guy. If there's any justice Bill Nye will preside at the funeral.
posted by JHarris at 7:43 PM on June 12, 2007

posted by mrbob at 7:54 PM on June 12, 2007

posted by exlotuseater at 8:00 PM on June 12, 2007

posted by lubujackson at 8:27 PM on June 12, 2007

Inspirational. Seemed like such a great guy. Let's all have a moment of science indeed.

[safety glasses on]
posted by Rock Steady at 8:39 PM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Mr. Wizard Studios site seems to be down, but don't miss the photos in the LA Times obit.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:47 PM on June 12, 2007

posted by jepler at 8:58 PM on June 12, 2007

posted by pruner at 10:00 PM on June 12, 2007

Loved his show, and Mr. Wizard's Supermarket Science was one of my favorite books growing up.

posted by DakotaPaul at 10:48 PM on June 12, 2007

Oh wow, the short clips on the Mr. Wizard's World video pages sure bring back the memories. *sigh*
posted by DakotaPaul at 10:53 PM on June 12, 2007

posted by chillmost at 10:58 PM on June 12, 2007



Mr. Vonnegut

Mr. Rogers

Mr. Wizard

My childhood is dwindling.

I don't know what is scarier, that they are all passing away, or that I can't seem to think of any people who can act in their place for future generations? (or have as similar impact, im sure rogers / vonnegut / wizard will carry on in some aspect via reruns and reprints, hopefully).
posted by mrzarquon at 11:29 PM on June 12, 2007


And now I'm going to comb my hair, then hold the comb next to running water.
posted by Twang at 11:31 PM on June 12, 2007

WTF no DVDs yet? I would LOVE to have this in a box set.

I had the first thing in the morning, still wearing a big T-shirt, brushing my baby teeth, in an unrenovated 90 year old house, Mr. Wizard experience, and so in conjunction with the strange Canadian touches, the whole thing always seemed fascinatingly surreal. I seem to recall creative use of irises and wipes, too.

Bill Nye and Mythbusters are great, but low-fi production values really catalyzed a special intimate feeling for his show.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:09 AM on June 13, 2007

posted by saladpants at 12:18 AM on June 13, 2007

posted by paulsc at 2:43 AM on June 13, 2007

posted by Thorzdad at 4:25 AM on June 13, 2007

Perfect Tommy: Emilio Lizardo...wasn't he on TV once?
Buckaroo Banzai: You're thinking of Mr. Wizard.
Reno: Emilio Lizardo is a top scientist, dummkopf.
Perfect Tommy: So was Mr. Wizard.
posted by drinkcoffee at 5:02 AM on June 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

He's easily in the top ten of people who shaped who I am.
I'm sad to see him go.

Mythbusters was once trying to replicate a flour explosion, and they were not have much luck getting things to ignite... the whole time I was thinking, BAH, Mr Wizard did have any problem doing this!
posted by killThisKid at 6:21 AM on June 13, 2007

"Moebius strip" was the answer at pub trivia a few weeks ago, and while I've seen the term since, I immediately flashed back to the Mr. Wizard episode and remembered the term from that. Sigh....

posted by inigo2 at 6:48 AM on June 13, 2007

I just picked up a copy of Supermarket Science on ebay for a penny. A PENNEY!!

That was one of my favorite books as a kid and I want to make sure I have a copy for when I have kids.

I remember getting up early to watch the show every morning at 6AM.

Mr. Wizard helped shape my young mind into the brain it is today.

This post has brought back some memories. God bless Don Herbert
posted by daHIFI at 6:55 AM on June 13, 2007

posted by paulus andronicus at 7:17 AM on June 13, 2007

You can jump through a piece of paper. The extreme close-up that looks like a mountainous landscape is mold growing on an orange. The tenth word on page 89 is Efrem. Siphons make water flow up. Software can teach deaf people pronunciation by showing them sound waves on the screen to imitate.

posted by clavicle at 7:28 AM on June 13, 2007

posted by Foosnark at 7:47 AM on June 13, 2007

I met Don Herbert around 30 years ago at a 4th of July pig roast on Madeline Island in Lake Superior. The black flys were so bad we fled to the water to escape. I spent the whole party standing with him knee deep in ice cold water raving about my favorite episodes of his show I saw as a kid. He was an interesting and engaging man.
Patient, too.
posted by Floydd at 8:03 AM on June 13, 2007

posted by sarahmelah at 8:26 AM on June 13, 2007

posted by tommasz at 8:30 AM on June 13, 2007


We should set off a MeFi Baking Soda Volcano in his honor...
posted by zarq at 8:40 AM on June 13, 2007

posted by simonemarie at 8:50 AM on June 13, 2007


I was just talking about him to my boyfriend who didn't have Nickelodeon as a kid. I was really young when his show was on and I was under the impression that the kids on it were picked at random from the general population and that one day I'd have to go on Mr. Wizard and I would totally embarrass myself because I wasn't as smart as the kids on there who always seemed to know the answer when he asked them about what a Mobius strip was or something. I actually stayed up at night worrying about it.
posted by Jess the Mess at 9:35 AM on June 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


I love how he never talked down or condescended to children. When I saw yesterday that he had passed, I said, "Aw! Mr. Wizard died!", and my kid said, "Mr. Wizard, who's that? Is he like Bill Nye, the Science Guy?" Soooo much better than that Science Guy.
posted by msali at 10:25 AM on June 13, 2007

As a small child I would have terrible nightmares about getting eaten by snakes, and I somehow decided that if I saw any snakes during the day, it would trigger a nightmare that night. The opening sequence of Mr. Wizard's show had a jungle scene with a snake (on a branch, I think), and I would always close my eyes for those 3 seconds, to avoid getting any snake images in my brain. Risking the nightmares was totally worth it - I loved that show. Thank you, Mr. Wizard.
posted by vytae at 10:29 AM on June 13, 2007


I read several of Don Herbert's books before ever seeing his show in the 70's (yes, I was an odd child) and had an Amazing Celebrity Worship Moment when I realized they were the same person.

Mr. Wizard was probably one of the biggest influences I had growing up...
posted by mmoncur at 9:21 PM on June 13, 2007

DVDs are available from the official Mr. Wizard site, not on Amazon or elsewhere. Both the Nickelodeon and old NBC shows. A bit steep though.
posted by ALongDecember at 10:28 PM on June 13, 2007

Mr. Wizard was the biggest threat to adolescents in the days before the World Wide Web existed.

It was because of him that I burned a hole through the carpet of my living room through a misguided, Mr. Wizard inspired homemade thermite experiment, which left the whole house smelling like molten aluminum and saltpeter for weeks.

It was because of him that I singed my hair off, making flamethrowers in the kitchen using All-Purpose Flour, drinking straws and an open flame.

It was because of him that a friend and myself thought it would be a good idea to fill an empty, "family size" jar of mayonnaise with aluminum siding scraps and swimming pool acid, placing a 50 gallon Hefty bag over the bubbling mess, then igniting the hydrogen bloated bag by walking up to it and throwing a lit match onto it. I think I lost a few IQ points from the concussive shockwave that followed.

It was because of him that i ruined the majority of my father's record collection by "playing" them on my homemade, sewing needle & construction paper phonograph.

It was because of him that I nearly electrocuted myself, trying to cook hotdogs with lamp cord plugged directly into the wall.

If he had shown how an atomic bomb worked, I probably would have been visiting my local drugstore, looking for the proper chemicals to shoplift in order to make one myself.

The world is better off without this dangerous man walking around, showing kids how to become DIY terrorists.

Oh yeah, and I almost forgot:

posted by melorama at 2:01 AM on June 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by fredosan at 7:28 AM on June 14, 2007

The heyday of home experimentation in the US coincided with the rise of the Porter Chemical Company, makers of the legendary Chemcraft labs-in-a-box, which contained enough bottles and beakers to perform more than 800 experiments. At the height of its popularity in the 1950s, Porter awarded college scholarships, mined its own chemicals, and was the biggest user of test tubes in the US. The company produced more than a million chemistry sets before going out of business in the 1980s amid increasing liability concerns.

One kid whose interest in science was sparked by the gift of a chemistry set was Don Herbert, who grew up to host a popular TV show in the 1950s called Watch Mr. Wizard. With his eye-popping demonstrations and low-key midwestern manner, Mr. Wizard gave generations of future scientists and teachers the confidence to perform experiments at home. In 1999, Restoration Hardware founder Stephen Gordon teamed up with Renee Whitney, general manager of a toy company called Wild Goose, to try to re-create the chemistry set Herbert marketed almost 50 years ago. “Don was so sweet,” Whitney recalls. “He invited us to his home to have dinner with him and his wife. Then he pulled his old chemistry set out of the garage. It was amazing – a real metal cabinet, like a little closet, filled with dozens of light-resistant bottles.”

Gordon and Whitney soon learned that few of the items in Mr. Wizard’s cabinet could be included in the product. “Unfortunately, we found that more than half the chemicals were illegal to sell to children because they’re considered dangerous,” Whitney explains. By the time the Mr. Wizard Science Set appeared in stores, it came with balloons, clay, Super Balls, and just five chemicals, including laundry starch, which was tagged with an ominous warning: HANDLE CAREFULLY. NOT EXPECTED TO BE A HEALTH HAZARD.
From a Wired article about how America has criminalized the sale of basic chemistry supplies for fear of illicit use and for "safety."
posted by zennie at 7:28 AM on June 14, 2007

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