1947: First Presidential TV Address Called on Farmers But Did They See It?

October 5, 2011

Every morning I try to read Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac. There’s always a poem, but I’m usually more interested in reading historical information about the day in history.

Today I was rewarded with a fact related to agriculture.

In 1947, President Truman made a direct call-out  to farmers in the first televised presidential address.

There are 2 ironies about this television event.

  1. 64 years later, and we’re still talking about the same things: feeding the hungry in war torn locations, grain shortages and major weather problems.
  2. Most farmers were lucky to have a radio in 1947, much less a television. There were still many rural areas without electricity.  My own Louisiana farm family was even years away from indoor plumbing, so televison wasn’t happening in those piney woods.

These days, we all have so many chances to hear the news that the problem is not having the technology, it is now about having the time to decide which items are really important.

In 1947, there was no doubt that this televised event was enormously important.


From The Writer’s Almanac:

The first televised presidential address aired on this date in 1947. President Harry Truman broadcast the speech from the White House, and his subject was food conservation. Europe was still reeling from World War II food shortages, and faced a winter famine brought on by regional droughts, floods, and unseasonable cold. Backing measures proposed by the Citizens’ Food Committee, Truman called on America’s farmers and distillers to reduce grain consumption, and asked the American public to do their part by observing “meatless Tuesdays,” going without poultry and eggs on Thursdays, and eating less bread. He felt that food aid was vital to the success of the Marshall Plan for post-war recovery in Europe. Truman assured the public that the government and armed forces would be following the measures as well, and the following day, the Citizens’ Food Committee published the White House menu for the first two restricted days:

Tuesday, luncheon — grapefruit, cheese soufflé, buttered peas, grilled tomatoes, chocolate pudding; dinner — clear chicken soup, broiled salmon steak, scalloped potatoes, string beans, sautéed eggplant, perfection salad, sliced peaches.

Thursday, luncheon — corn soup, peppers stuffed with rice and mushrooms, lima beans, glazed carrots, baked apples; dinner — melon balls, baked ham, baked sweet potatoes, asparagus, cauliflower, green salad, coffee mallow.

In 1947, there were only about 44,000 television sets in the United States; nearly everyone got their news from the radio and the papers. But the little-seen broadcast changed the relationship between the government and the media all the same. All of Truman’s addresses from then on were televised, and in 1949 he became the first presidential candidate to air a paid political advertisement.

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