Today, it is not unusual for the President of the United States to make televised speeches. However, the President did not always give speeches or address the nation on television.
Learn details about the first presidential speech, who made the speech and what the President of the United States spoke about when he addressed U.S. citizens.
Media In The 1940s
American citizens relied primarily on the radio for entertainment in the 1940s. Entire families often gathered around the large radio, tuning into the latest radio mystery program, talk show or baseball game. Radio and newspapers served as the means of relaying the news to people in the U.S.
People also received information from and about the President of the United States by radio. In the 1920s, radio broadcasters announced that President Warren G. Harding won the presidential election. President Harding also became the first president to address the public by radio.
The majority of Americans did not own televisions. WWII resulted in the suspension of most television broadcasts. Even after WWII ended, most Americans still relied on the radio for entertainment and news.
First Presidential Speech On Television
In 1947, the first speech from a U.S. president aired on TV. Politico points out that only about 44,000 U.S. homes had televisions and the majority of families who did own a television were in large cities.
On October 5, 1947, President Harry S. Truman became the first president to address the American public on television in the form of a presidential speech. However, President Truman’s speech was not the kind that people are used to hearing on television today. There was no State of the Union address, no interrupted programming broadcast, and no presidential debate.
When President Truman appeared on TV to address the limited television audience, he asked Americans to conserve food. Joined by several U.S. Cabinet members, President Harry S. Truman revealed a specific plan that he wanted to set in motion.
The purpose of President Truman’s address came about because of post-WWII famine and starvation in Europe. The New York Times explains that in this presidential speech airing on television, Truman asked people to not eat meat on Tuesdays and to refrain from eating poultry and eggs on Thursdays. Truman also asked that the American people reduce their consumption of bread by one slice every day. In his speech, President Truman called upon the agriculture and distillery industries to reduce their use of grain. He also asked for Americans to stockpile grain supplies for the starving Europeans.
Original Introduction To Television
While credit for delivering the first presidential speech on TV officially goes to President Truman, he was not technically the first President of the United States to appear on television. At the 1939 New York World’s Fair, RCA introduced the television to America.
The Early Television Museum says that President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the opening of the 1939 World’s Fair, which appeared in a televised broadcast. However, that broadcast aired only to the people attending the fair.
Importance Of Truman’s First Televised Speech
On October 5, 1947, there was only a small audience viewing the first televised speech to the American public by a U.S. President. However, this did not deter President Truman.
Seemingly interested in the latest technology, Truman continued his televised addresses, making sure that he gave every future speech to a televised audience. He apparently recognized the impact of addressing the nation on television.
The American people also have President Truman to thank for the first televised political advertisement appearing on television. In 1949, he also became the first U.S. President to give his inaugural address on television.