First Televised White House Address
On October 5, 1947, US President Harry Truman delivered the first televised White House address.
Truman wasn’t the first president to appear on TV. That honor went to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who delivered a speech at the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing, Queens. But the address was only broadcast on special TVs set up at the New York City Fairgrounds and Radio City Music Hall.
At the time of Truman’s speech, there were only about 44,000 television sets in American homes, and most of those were in larger East Coast cities. At the time, most people got their news from radios.
The purpose of Truman’s speech was to encourage Americans to conserve food to help provide for Europeans that were still recovering from World War II. As Europe braced for a massive winter famine, Truman offered several suggestions for Americans to help. As he explained it, American overeating and wastefulness would lead to domestic inflation, so both America and Europe would suffer.
Truman offered several suggestions on how people could help. He asked people in the agricultural industry and distilleries to decrease their grain usage. He also asked people to stop eating meat on Tuesdays and eggs and poultry on Thursdays. He also suggested that everyone eat one less slice of bread each day.
Truman and his cabinet were encouraging these cutbacks in advance of the upcoming Marshall Plan to provide aid to Europe. Of the situation, Secretary of State George C. Marshall said, Food from the United States would deter the march of hunger, cold and collapse, not only enabling Europe to recover its economic stability but also contributing to the resolution of a crisis that could mean the difference between the failure or attainment of world peace and security.”
While the program Truman laid out in his speech was short-lived, he would continue to embrace the television medium in the coming years. All of his later speeches would be aired on TV, including his 1949 inaugural address. He was also the first presidential candidate to air a political ad on TV.
Click here to read Truman’s full speech.
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