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Today in History: October 5, 1947 – First Televised Presidential Speech

Last week we discussed the first ever televised Presidential debate. Today marks the 71st anniversary of the very first televised presidential speech.

The president?

Harry S. Truman. That “accidental” president who only ever reached the White House because President Roosevelt died a mere 2 months into his 4th term.

In 1947, just over two years into his accidental term, President Truman addressed the American People via camera.

At the time, America was also only two years out of WWII and they were still struggling to recover from the long, well, struggle. So, Truman addressed the American People on food conservation.

See, in order for his Marshall Plan to work, Americans had to conserve food, themselves. How else could they have helped feed all those starving Europeans? If America was still struggling to recover, well, that was nothing compared to Europe . . . especially those living under Stalin’s oppression.

So, Truman asked “farmers and distillers to reduce grain use and requested that the public voluntarily forgo meat on Tuesdays, eggs and poultry on Thursdays, and save a slice of bread each day” (Source). Essentially, he was asking Americans to continue their rationing.

But here’s the thing: The program worked, thus it was short lived. And here’s another thing: Let’s remember that this was Post-WWII/Cold War Era America. We had just defeated Fascism (Nazism) and were still working to destroy both Communism and Socialism. In short, we weren’t the greedy, the-government-owes-me America that we are today. Sure, some of Roosevelt’s Depression Era plans were still in place. But Americans were still willing to sacrifice to help those starving and oppressed in other countries.

Things have changed a lot in the last 70-some odd years.

But, back to Truman’s speech. See, this last week, many Americans tuned in to a open-door Senate hearing. Today that seems common place. But that just wasn’t the case in 1947. TV was in its infancy. Not every American owned a television set yet – that number would climb drastically in the 1950’s during Eisenhower’s Back to God campaign and the prosperity that Americans received in return. But, in 1947, most Americans tuned in to the President via the Radio (remember that Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats were mega popular because Americans felt like they were inviting the President into their homes).

Sadly, this meant that most Americans missed Truman’s TV debut. However, every single speech that he would give thereafter were also televised. Just like the Nixon-Kennedy televised debates, Truman’s speeches would change American television (and American politics) forever. [It’s also interesting to note that Truman’s voice is way lower here than you here in recorded speeches.]

So, next time you watch the President give a televised speech, remember Truman’s ground-breaking speech in 1947. And remember his call to sacrifice for the sake of others.

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Listen: Truman’s 1st Televised Speech

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