6 Things You Never Knew About Sesame Street

Sesame Street is the most-watched children’s program of all time, touching lives across over one hundred countries and multiple generations. Created in 1969 by Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett, the show immediately set itself apart from other educational programs with its multiracial cast (who seamlessly interacted with Jim Henson’s muppets), urban setting, and research-based approach to elementary education.  

Here are six facts about the groundbreaking children's educational program that you probably didn't know. 

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Muppets and Humans Weren’t Supposed to Interact

It’s hard to believe that the human-muppet interaction that quickly came to define Sesame Street’s style might never have existed. Child psychologists initially recommended that the show’s human actors and the muppets only appear in separate scenes because they feared that the interaction between humans and puppets would confuse and disturb children. However, producers noticed during testing that scenes without muppets didn’t engage children, so they chose to ignore the psychologists' advice. 

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Oscar the Grouch Was Orange

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Oscar has been a key character in Sesame Street since the show first aired in 1969, but he’s gone through quite a transformation over the years. In season one, Oscar the Grouch was actually orange. Only in the second season, which debuted in 1970, did Oscar get his signature green fur and brown, bushy eyebrows.

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Mississippi Once Refused to Air the Show Because of Its Integrated Cast

Richard Termine

A state commission in Mississippi voted in 1970 to ban sesame street. They felt that the state was not ready for the show’s “highly integrated cast of children.” However, the company later relented after the New York Times leaked the story to widespread public outrage. 

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Snuffy Is (Kind Of) a Symbol of Child Abuse

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Snuffy (full name Aloysius Snuffleupagus) started out as Big Bird’s imaginary friend and appeared on screen only when Big Bird and Snuffy were alone, disappearing from view when adults entered the scene. However, the research team and producers chose to reveal Snuffy to the cast when they became worried that the story would discourage children from reporting sexual abuse cases for fear that adults wouldn’t believe them. ​​

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Sesame Street Had an HIV-Positive Puppet

In 2002, Sesame Street debuted Kami, a South-African muppet who contracted the disease through a blood transfusion and whose mother died of AIDS. The character’s story was met with controversy when some viewers who felt that the story was inappropriate for children. However, Kami continued to serve as a character in several international versions of the show and as a public advocate for AIDS research.

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Nearly All Millennials Have Seen It

Sesame Street Muppet 'Elmo' attends the Sesame Workshop's 13th Annual Benefit Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street on May 27, 2015 in New York City. Paul Zimmerman / Contributor

A 1996 research study found that by age three, 95% of children had seen at least one episode of Sesame Street. If the show’s track record of tackling difficult questions in thoughtful, inclusive ways is any indication, that’s a good thing for the next generation of leaders.