Schoolhouse Rock! celebrated its 50th anniversary in January 2023. The Saturday morning cartoons debuted in 1973 and brought school lessons on a variety of subjects, including government and democracy, to children through catchy yet educational lyrics and beats.
The idea for the educational specials reportedly formed after a parent was frustrated at their child’s ability to memorize songs but not multiplication tables. The parent, an employee at an advertising agency, batted around the idea of setting multiplication to music at work. “Three Is a Magic Number” soon became the first Schoolhouse Rock! song.
Eventually, the network cable station ABC, a client of the advertising agency, heard about the concept and greenlit Schoolhouse Rock! as a solution to the Federal Communications Commission and parent complaints about violent cartoons and sugary cereal advertisements.
The series started with math but branched out to other topics such as civics, science, and grammar. Arguably, one of its most famous episodes featured the song “I’m Just a Bill,” which taught viewers about how a piece of federal legislation goes on its journey from conception, to the U.S. Congress, and eventually into law signed by the president. Schoolhouse Rock! ran until the mid-1980s and was revived briefly in the 1990s and late-2000s.