Written by: Christine Jackson (Rewire)
Date: March 20, 2017

It’s a scene you’ve watched a thousand times.

Mr. Rogers steps through his front door with a smile and a song, shrugs off his work jacket and puts it on its hanger in a closet. From a hanger to the left he pulls down a cardigan, puts it on and zips it up over his shirt and tie. Still smiling and still singing, he sits down to swap out his loafers for well-loved but not worn-out sneakers.

Mister RogersGenerations of children have been invited to be Mr. Rogers’ neighbor, but not before he had changed into the sweater-sneaker combo that became iconic enough to earn a spot in the Smithsonian. Even the newer animated spin-off of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” incorporates the look. Daniel Striped Tiger now wears the red sweater and sneakers in every episode.

But why those sweaters and sneakers? Surely he could have led us into the fantastical world of make believe in his sport coat and loafers. He could have, but he didn’t want to.

Mr. Rogers’ sweaters were made by his mom

“He changed to his sweater, sang the same welcoming song and sat on the bench to change to his sneakers,” wrote Hedda Sharapan, director of early childhood initiatives at The Fred Rogers Company, in a March 2014 post on FredRogers.org. “This predictability offered a sense of security. Through your rituals and routines, you’re offering that to children, too.”

“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was a world built on both familiarity and formality. Mr. Rogers was an adult, and we were to see him as such. He didn’t share a studio with an audience of children or don a crazy costume. Instead he was fatherly. He spoke directly to each child on the other end of a TV screen with care and respect. And he switched from his work jacket to a cardigan to show them it was time to relax and share a moment together.

Mister Rogers putting on a sweaterThe zip-up cardigans Mr. Rogers donned each episode not only separated the world inside his home from the one beyond, but were a comforting symbol of his own past.

“My mother, for as long as I could remember, made at least one sweater every month,” Rogers told EmmyTVLegends.org in 1999. “She would give us each a hand-knit sweater every Christmas. Until she died those zipper sweaters that I wore on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother.”

His sneakers were for sneaking

His shoes, while not quite as sentimental, also served a double purpose. When the trolley rolled into the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, Mr. Rogers stepped behind the scenes to construct that quietly pleasant imaginary world. He brought Henrietta Pussycat, Daniel Striped Tiger, King Friday XIII and their many friends to life without children ever noticing. The work shoes he wore had too heavy a step for behind-the-scenes work, but canvas tennis shoes allowed Mr. Rogers to walk around backstage maneuvering puppets without a sound.

When the show ends and our time with Mr. Rogers is over, so is his time in his cardigan and sneakers. The sneakers go back by their bench and the work shoes are put back on. The cardigan is returned to its hanger and the jacket goes back on Mr. Rogers. The show ends as it began, with a smile and a song.

Each movement, sound, story, sweater and canvas sneaker was chosen with a purpose. They were chosen to make children feel safe and comfortable and listened to. Each choice Fred Rogers made, he made to help his young viewers learn and grow.

Mister Rogers dancing

How Mr. Rogers wants to be remembered

In the same 1999 interview in which he discussed the meaning behind his sweaters, Rogers said he’d like to be remembered “for being a compassionate human being who happened to be fortunate enough to be born at a time when there was a fabulous thing called television that could allow me to use all the talents that I had been given.”

He is remembered for his kindness and compassion, and he is remembered for his presence on the television screens of decades of families. But in all those memories, whether he’s singing or sharing a story or watching the trolley go by, he’s wearing a zip-up cardigan and sneakers.

  • tigersgrowl

    I never knew about that. Had I known, I would have listened to local radio because my data is capped within the first week due to all the 3G radio I listen to. This will be a great help however, I use the Kyrocera Event (don’t laugh, it was only $20 and I got a mortgage) with the Virgin Mobile service using the Sprint network. I contacted Virgin just now, we’ll have to see if they give me the run around as expected with most phone companies or not. If they do, I won’t give up there, I will consult the blogs and forums. If there is a way, I will find it.

    • Jessie

      @tigersgrowl, I also have Virgin Mobile and they use the Sprint network. I will call them also, but I would really appreciate if you post your updates.

  • Yoga Bear

    “I want my FM Radio! Unlock the FM chip in all smartphones you sell so I can get important emergency information when data networks are unavailable and reduce the amount of data I use each month.

    Thank you. I have a HTC one m7 I have looked and the phone has a FM chip and I have Verizon I have called there tech support and they told me all I need to do is find a radio app, you can’t find one that will work without the net, theses company’s just lies to get you off the phone, so I called HTC by the way Verizon told me not to do that, so me being one not to do what I’m told lol I called any ways, HTC told me that they will be updating to lollipop in a few months and then they’re going to come out with the update that send you a FM radio to your phone that they have been working on it for several months without any support from Verizon Wireless so they’ve taken it on their self to go ahead and make a program to turn on the FM chip so that it will work so that we can have free FM radio on our smartphones, we will see. I’ll give them two months if they don’t do it I’m calling back.

    • Joseph Ogidan

      I had a Nokia phone back in 2008 that had a radio. All I needed to activate it was my head phone, and it worked perfectly well.

  • jeremiah stansbury

    please its our rite we paid for the phone why cant we have fm radio it wont cost you any thing to keep the public informed

  • callthemanufacture

    you’re provider has nothing to do with this they do not make the phones so be sure to call the manufacture the provider does not have a way to unlock this so don’t blame them and give more information on fm chips besides call your provider

    • Irwin Busk

      You are very incorrect. The provider orders the phone with their preferred software load, and with certain features and applications locked. The carrier can provide an “unlock” code, but is not required to by law. many will do so, if you are near the end of your contract.

  • sm spfld ma

    Radio is not a right. I’m all for the chip being activated but come on. npr is using you to push their agenda and getting this activated. It’s a scarf tactic. We all got text messages from the weather service when the tornado was on its way to western ma. Say you did have a radio on the phone then; how many people would put the radio on? I Google the tornado then and got the info I needed. Don’t be fools: you’re bejng used by public radio cronies to get more people to listen to PUBLIC RADIO. It’s a cheap marketing initiative.

    • Mrpockets

      If you are all about activating the chip then why are you urging people not to ask for it? Sure it’s an agenda. Everyone has an agenda. For all we know, you could hold a bunch of stock in Pandora and are pushing your own agenda by trying to make people feel stupid for wanting access to something that they’ve always had. That’s what you sound like to me.

  • Floyd Durham

    I just contacted Virgin and they claimed to have no knowledge of any of this. I was told that basically it probably not real and that just because it says so on the internet it doesn’t mean anything. They don’t want people using it then they loose money for data use….Like the owner of Virgin needs more money..lol

  • Byron Edgington

    What a wonderful, warm and kind human being. Fred Rogers will always be my hero. When my daughter Amanda was four, her grandmother (my mother) died, and ‘Manda was bereft at losing her. She decided to write to her TV friend, ‘Mikkah Rogers.’ The letter went in the mail, and a month later, Amanda received a warm, understanding letter from Fred Rogers. In the letter, he wrote as he spoke on TV, a show Amanda wouldn’t miss for the world. He said the very same people who are glad sometimes are the very same people who are sad sometimes. He told my daughter how sad he was for her loss, and he signed the letter, ‘Your friend, Mister Rogers.’ Amanda still has the letter. It’s one of her cherished possessions. The world needs more people like my hero, Fred Rogers.