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Google Doodle pays tribute to everyone's neighbor, Mister Rogers

Believe it or not, it's been 51 years since Mister Rogers' Neighborhood began entertaining and educating many of us.

If you grew up during the past half century, there's a good chance you spent some of your preschool years visiting your TV friend and neighbor Fred Rogers.

You knew you were instantly welcome in the always-smiling and soft-spoken man's neighborhood. As the creator and host of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, he began every episode speaking directly to you, asking "won't you be my neighbor" before taking you on a half-hour educational exploration of science, music, crafts and, well, friendship.

To honor a man who offered that friendship to generations of children while piquing their curiosity about the world and people around them, Google dedicated its Doodle on Friday to Rogers on the 51st anniversary of the first taping of his program for National Educational Television, the predecessor to Public Broadcasting Service.

Like the opening of hundreds of Mister Rogers episodes, the Doodle begins with a group of young children gathered around the TV, watching as a trolley transverses a model of Mister Rogers' neighborhood. In a claymation-like presentation reminiscent of another 1960s children's show, Davey and Goliath, Mister Rogers greets friends along the way with smiles and invitations to educational adventures.

Through the magic of a fairly nascent technology called television, he took preschool-age children on factory tours, met with people in the neighborhood to talk about their jobs, and even visited the set of the TV show The Incredible Hulk (disclosure: The Hulk appeared on CBS, which owns CNET).

Rogers' career in children's TV programming began in 1954 as a puppeteer on The Children's Corner, a live afternoon TV show that laid the groundwork for many of the characters he would use in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, including Daniel Tiger and X the Owl.

He would stay on the air for almost 50 years before hanging up his sneakers and cardigan sweater in 2001. Rogers died in 2003 at age 74, but the iconic children's entertainer is still with us: all 856 episodes of his classic show are available to watch for free on livestreaming site Twitch.

Doodling our world: Check out Google's previous celebrations of people, events and holidays that impact our lives.

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