Sesame Street Turns 40
After 40 years, sunny days are still shining on the beloved children’s television show
The original cast of Sesame Street, which first aired in November, 1969 (Photo: Sesame Workshop)
Big Bird, Elmo, Oscar the Grouch . . . is there anyone reading this article who doesn’t recognize these characters? Sesame Street has been around so long many of your parents probably have fond memories of the show. This month, the classic children’s television show that stars furry Muppets alongside human actors celebrates its 40th anniversary.
When Sesame Street first went on the air in November 1969, kids and parents had never seen anything like it. What was so different about it? Believe it or not, no one had ever heard of educational television before. The idea that TV could be used as a teaching tool for children was brand-new.
The show was originally aimed at children who did not have access to preschool. The show’s creators wanted to help them learn basic skills, like the alphabet and counting, as well as values like friendship and respect—all while having fun.
Forty years and 4,187 episodes later, Sesame Street has not only made learning fun for millions of American children, but it also now teaches children in 125 countries.
The First Lady Helps Celebrate
First Lady Michelle Obama appeared on the episode marking Sesame Street’s 40th anniversary on November 10. In the episode, she joined characters Elmo and Big Bird along with a group of children. Together they planted vegetable seeds to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and carrots. Mrs. Obama has emphasized the importance of healthy eating since the start of her husband’s presidency.
Muppets Past and Present
If you visited Sesame Street in 1969, you would see plenty of familiar faces. Big Bird, Grover, Oscar the Grouch, Cookie Monster, and Bert and Ernie are some of the Muppets—the puppets created by puppeteer Jim Henson—that have been around Sesame Street since the very beginning.
But you wouldn’t see some of the characters you remember from your own preschool days. Big Bird’s friend Snuffleupagus first appeared in 1971, and the number-loving Count in 1972. Elmo, the superstar of today’s Sesame Street, arrived in 1979. At first, he was known simply as Little Monster.
Abby Cadabby became the newest Muppet on the block in 2006. The fairy in training is also the most modern Muppet: beginning this season, she is a digital creation, rather than a physical, fuzzy puppet.
An Ever-Changing Street
The Street has changed in other ways too. Initially aimed mostly at urban, or city, children, the show had a more gritty, big-city feel in the early days. Graffiti was visible, and the colors on the set were not as bright as they are today.
In 1969, children who rode their bikes on Sesame Street did not wear helmets, and Cookie Monster ate nothing but cookies. Today, he knows that cookies are a “sometimes” food, and that he needs to eat fruits and vegetables as well. The show has evolved, or changed, constantly over the years to keep its learning current for kids.
Did You Know?
- The first episode of Sesame Street was sponsored by the letters W, S, and E and the numbers 2 and 3.
- Creators of Sesame Street were thinking of calling the show “123 Avenue B.”
- Big Bird is 8 feet, 2 inches tall.
- Oscar the Grouch was orange during the first season, before being changed to green.
- Actor Caroll Spinney, now 75, has played Big Bird since the first episode. He also plays Oscar the Grouch.
- Kermit the Frog made his last appearance on the show in 2001. He is the only original Muppet no longer on Sesame Street.
- 77 million Americans have watched Sesame Street as children. You are probably one of them!
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