Year
1933

FDR gives first fireside chat

On this day in 1933, eight days after his inauguration, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gives his first national radio address or “fireside chat,” broadcast directly from the White House.

Roosevelt began that first address simply: “I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking.” He went on to explain his recent decision to close the nation’s banks in order to stop a surge in mass withdrawals by panicked investors worried about possible bank failures. The banks would be reopening the next day, Roosevelt said, and he thanked the public for their “fortitude and good temper” during the “banking holiday.”

At the time, the U.S. was at the lowest point of the Great Depression, with between 25 and 33 percent of the work force unemployed. The nation was worried, and Roosevelt’s address was designed to ease fears and to inspire confidence in his leadership. Roosevelt went on to deliver 30 more of these broadcasts between March 1933 and June 1944. They reached an astonishing number of American households, 90 percent of which owned a radio at the time.

Journalist Robert Trout coined the phrase “fireside chat” to describe Roosevelt’s radio addresses, invoking an image of the president sitting by a fire in a living room, speaking earnestly to the American people about his hopes and dreams for the nation. In fact, Roosevelt took great care to make sure each address was accessible and understandable to ordinary Americans, regardless of their level of education. He used simple vocabulary and relied on folksy anecdotes or analogies to explain the often complex issues facing the country.

Over the course of his historic 12-year presidency, Roosevelt used the chats to build popular support for his groundbreaking New Deal policies, in the face of stiff opposition from big business and other groups. After World War II began, he used them to explain his administration’s wartime policies to the American people. The success of Roosevelt’s chats was evident not only in his three re-elections, but also in the millions of letters that flooded the White House. Farmers, business owners, men, women, rich, poor–most of them expressed the feeling that the president had entered their home and spoken directly to them. In an era when presidents had previously communicated with their citizens almost exclusively through spokespeople and journalists, it was an unprecedented step.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Reno sworn in as attorney general

Following her confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Janet Reno is sworn in as the first female attorney general of the United States.Born in Miami in 1938, she studied at Harvard Law School and in 1971 was named staff director of the Judiciary Committee of the FloridaHouse of ...read more

The Blizzard of 1888

The most severe winter storm ever to hit the New York City region reaches blizzard proportions, costing hundreds of lives and millions of dollars in property damage. Although the storm also struck New England, New York was the hardest hit, with the 36-hour blizzard dumping some ...read more

Germany annexes Austria

On March 12, 1938, German troops march into Austria to annex the German-speaking nation for the Third Reich.In early 1938, Austrian Nazis conspired for the second time in four years to seize the Austrian government by force and unite their nation with Nazi Germany. Austrian ...read more

Gandhi leads civil disobedience

On March 12, 1930, Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi begins a defiant march to the sea in protest of the British monopoly on salt, his boldest act of civil disobedience yet against British rule in India.Britain’s Salt Acts prohibited Indians from collecting or selling ...read more

Australians withdraw from South Vietnam

The last remnants of the First Australian Task Force withdraw from Vietnam. The Australian government had first sent troops to Vietnam in 1964 with a small aviation detachment and an engineer civic action team. In May 1965, the Australians increased their commitment with the ...read more

New York Highlanders join American League

On March 12, 1903, the New York Highlanders are given the go-ahead by team owners to join baseball’s American League. The Highlanders had recently moved from Baltimore, where they were called the Orioles and had a winning tradition dating back to the 1890s. Called the “Yankees” ...read more

FDR broadcasts first fireside chat

On this day in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt holds the first of his radio-broadcast fireside chats. FDR used the informal radio addresses to explain his policies to the American public. In an era before television, cell phones and iPods, FDR used the most immediate and ...read more

Chinese laborers excluded from U.S.

Agreeing to cooperate with a policy unilaterally adopted by Congress six years earlier, China approves a treaty forbidding Chinese laborers to enter the United States for 20 years.In the 1850s, large numbers of Chinese immigrated to the American West. Most came from the Pearl ...read more

The Dixie Chicks backlash begins

In response to the critical comments made about him by Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush offered this response: “The Dixie Chicks are free to speak their mind. They can say what they want to say.” Of the ...read more

Jack Kerouac is born

Jack Kerouac is born in Lowell, Massachusetts. Kerouac was the son of French-Canadian parents and learned English as a second language. In high school, Kerouac was a star football player and won a scholarship to Columbia University.In World War II, he served in the Navy but was ...read more

Truman Doctrine is announced

In a dramatic speech to a joint session of Congress, President Harry S. Truman asks for U.S. assistance for Greece and Turkey to forestall communist domination of the two nations. Historians have often cited Truman’s address, which came to be known as the Truman Doctrine, as the ...read more

Red River Campaign begins

On this day in 1864, one of the biggest military fiascos of the Civil War begins as a combined Union force of infantry and riverboatsstarts moving up the Red River in Louisiana. The month-long campaign was poorly managed and achieved none of the objectives set forth by Union ...read more

Italian auto titan Gianni Agnelli born

On this day in 1921, Giovanni “Gianni” Agnelli, the glamorous, powerful Italian business tycoon who turned Fiat, his family’s car company, into an international conglomerate, is born in Turin, Italy. Agnelli was named for his grandfather, who founded Fabbrica Italiana Automobili ...read more