On October 5, 1947, President Harry Truman gave the first-ever televised presidential speech. It marked a shift in how politics were brought before the American public, and was one of the first occasions that showcased the powerhouse television would become.
President Truman gave his presidential delivery from the White House. During his speech, he asked Americans to cut back on their use of grain to help those Europeans still recovering from World War II. The conflict had left much of the continent in famine, and Truman was looking to aid in its recovery.
He was worried that if the United States did not provide aid, his administration’s Marshall Plan for Europe’s economic recovery would fail. To ensure this didn’t happen, he asked distillers and farmers to reduce their grain use, and requested that the public reduce their intake of certain foods. He asked them to forgo meat on Tuesdays, eggs and poultry on Thursdays, and use one slice of bread less each day.
Luckily for Truman, the voluntary food program was short-lived, as his Marshall Plan succeeded in spurring Europe’s economic growth and revitalization.
In 1947, television was still in its infancy. Only around 44,000 households had one and they were largely located along the east coast. The majority of Americans still used the radio for news and entertainment, with approximately 40 million units in homes across the country.
While the majority of Americans missed the televised address, Truman’s speech is seen as the start of a close relationship between TV and the White House. It’s had a large impact on the way the presidency works, from how candidates campaign for office to how sitting presidents communicate with the wider public.
After the October 1947 address, all of Truman’s White House speeches were televised, including his 1949 inauguration address.
More from us: From Fireside Chats to ‘War of the Worlds,’ the early days of radio
President Truman wasn’t the first to make an appearance on TV. President Franklin Roosevelt takes that honor, as he gave a televised speech at the World’s Fair in Flushing, Queens on April 30, 1939.
However, the audience for Roosevelt’s speech was limited to just receivers at the fairgrounds and at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan.