Lloyd Morrisett, the co-founder of the Sesame Workshop and the co-creator of Sesame Street, has died. Sesame Workshop confirmed Morrisett’s death in a statement on social media, though the organization did not release a cause of death. He was 93.
“Sesame Workshop mourns the passing of our esteemed and beloved co-founder Lloyd N. Morrisett, Ph.D. who died at the age of 93,” Sesame Workshop’s statement said. “Lloyd leaves an outsized and indelible legacy among generations of children the world over, with Sesame Street only the most visible tribute to a lifetime of good work and lasting impact.”
Born on November 2, 1929, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Morrisett and his family moved to New York City in 1933. After that, the Morrisetts would move to California, where he would meet his future Sesame co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney. Morrisett studied experimental psychology at Oberlin University in the early 50s. Then, after a stint at UCLA’s graduate school, he earned his Ph.D. from Yale in 1953.
In December 1965, Morrisett noticed something interesting about his daughter’s television habits. Observing her at 6:30 a.m., Morrisett noticed his 3-year-old daughter Sarah engaging with the test patterns playing before cartoons. “It struck me there was something fascinating to Sarah about television,” he said in Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street. “What is a child doing watching the station identification signal? What does this mean?” Morrisett, who was working as the vice president of the Carnegie Corporation, was working on ways to “enrich the preschool program, in particular to overcome the disadvantages that poor children and children from minority groups were suffering when they entered school. “
“The results indicated that you could teach children a great deal before they entered school,” he said. “The children who had that advantagoues education early did better in the early school years.”
In 1968, Morrisett and Ganz founded the Children’s Television Workshop, which would later be renamed the Sesame Street Workshop, using the newly established National Educational Television, later renamed the Public Broadcasting Service or PBS, and a number of grants. The show aimed to break “the tyranny of America’s poverty cycle could be broken if the emotional, social, health, nutritional and psychological needs of poor children could be met,” writes Michael Davis in Street Gang, and that’s precisely what happened. The show launched on November 10, 1969, creating a seismic moment in television, with aftershocks felt to this day.
From 1969 through 2010, Morrisett worked as a writer for more than 56 episodes. “Without Lloyd Morrisett, there would be no Sesame Street,” said Joan Ganz Cooney. “It was he who first came up with the notion of using television to teach preschoolers basic skills, such as letters and numbers. He was a trusted partner and loyal friend to me for over fifty years, and he will be sorely missed.”