Year
1947
Month Day
October 05

Harry Truman delivers first-ever presidential speech on TV

On October 5, 1947, President Harry Truman (1884-1972) makes the first-ever televised presidential address from the White House, asking Americans to cut back on their use of grain in order to help starving Europeans.

At the time of Truman’s food-conservation speech, Europe was still recovering from World War II and suffering from famine. Truman, the 33rd commander in chief, worried that if the U.S. didn’t provide food aid, his administration’s Marshall Plan for European economic recovery would fall apart. He 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. The food program was short-lived, as ultimately the Marshall Plan succeeded in helping to spur economic revitalization and growth in Europe.

In 1947, television was still in its infancy and the number of TV sets in U.S. homes only numbered in the thousands (by the early 1950s, millions of Americans owned TVs); most people listened to the radio for news and entertainment. However, although the majority of Americans missed Truman’s TV debut, his speech signaled the start of a powerful and complex relationship between the White House and a medium that would have an enormous impact on the American presidency, from how candidates campaigned for the office to how presidents communicated with their constituents (or even how they got elected).

Each of Truman’s subsequent White House speeches, including his 1949 inauguration address, was televised. In 1948, Truman was the first presidential candidate to broadcast a paid political ad. Truman pioneered the White House telecast, but it was President Franklin Roosevelt who was the first president to appear on TV–from the World’s Fair in New York City on April 30, 1939. FDR’s speech had an extremely limited TV audience, though, airing only on receivers at the fairgrounds and at Radio City in Manhattan.

READ MORE: How US Presidents Have Communicated with the Public—From the Telegraph to Twitter

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Steve Jobs, founder of Apple

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dies

On October 5, 2011, Steve Jobs, the visionary co-founder of Apple Inc., which revolutionized the computer, music and mobile communications industries with such devices as the Macintosh, iPod, iPhone and iPad, dies at age 56 of complications from pancreatic cancer. Born on ...read more

New York Times publishes bombshell investigation into allegations against Harvey Weinstein

On October 5, 2017, The New York Times publishes a detailed investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against film producer Harvey Weinstein. The bombshell report led to Weinstein’s eventual arrest and conviction on charges of rape and other sexual misconduct. It has ...read more

Shawnee chief Tecumseh is defeated

During the War of 1812, a combined British and Native American force is defeated by General William Harrison’s American army at the Battle of the Thames in Ontario, Canada. The leader of the Native forces was Tecumseh, the Shawnee chief who organized intertribal resistance to the ...read more

Dalai Lama wins Nobel Peace Prize

The Dalai Lama, the exiled religious and political leader of Tibet, is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his nonviolent campaign to end the Chinese domination of Tibet. The 14th Dalai Lama was born as Tenzin Gyatso in a hamlet in northeastern Tibet in 1935. He was ...read more

Chief Joseph surrenders

Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce peoples surrenders to U.S. General Nelson A. Miles in the Bear Paw mountains of Montana, declaring, “Hear me, my chiefs: My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.” Earlier in the year, the U.S. government ...read more

American circumnavigates the globe on foot

American Dave Kunst completes the first round-the-world journey on foot, taking four years and 21 pairs of shoes to complete the 14,500-mile journey across the land masses of four continents. He left his hometown of Waseca, Minnesota, on June 20, 1970. Near the end of his journey ...read more

The Dalton Gang is wiped out in Coffeyville, Kansas

On October 5, 1892, the famous Dalton Gang attempts the daring daylight robbery of two Coffeyville, Kansas, banks at the same time. But if the gang members believed the sheer audacity of their plan would bring them success, they were sadly mistaken. Instead, they were nearly ...read more

Isaac Singer wins Nobel Prize in Literature

On October 5, 1978, Isaac Bashevis Singer wins the Nobel Prize in Literature. Singer wrote in Yiddish about Jewish life in Poland and the United States, and translations of his work became popular in mainstream America as well as Jewish circles. Singer was born in Poland in 1904 ...read more

“Henry & June” is first NC-17 film shown in theaters

On October 5, 1990, Henry & June, starring Uma Thurman, Fred Ward and Maria de Medeiros and inspired by the novel of the same name by Anais Nin, opens in theaters as the first film with an NC-17 rating. Set in Paris, France, in the early 1930s, Henry & June tells the story of the ...read more

Blimp crashes in France

On October 5, 1930, a British dirigible crashes in Beauvais, France, killing all but seven people onboard. The airship, which was Great Britain’s biggest, had first been launched about a year earlier. In the 1920s, the major European nations competed with each other to build ...read more

Iran-Contra scandal unravels

Eugene Hasenfus is captured by troops of the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua after the plane in which he is flying is shot down; two others on the plane die in the crash. Under questioning, Hasenfus confessed that he was shipping military supplies into Nicaragua for use by the ...read more

Enzo Ferrari makes his debut as a race car driver

On October 5, 1919, a young Italian car mechanic and engineer named Enzo Ferrari takes part in his first car race, a hill climb in Parma, Italy. He finished fourth. Ferrari was a good driver, but not a great one: In all, he won just 13 of the 47 races he entered. Many people say ...read more

General Washington informs Congress of espionage

On October 5, 1775, General George Washington writes to the president of the Continental Congress, John Hancock, to inform him that a letter from Dr. Benjamin Church, surgeon general of the Continental Army, to Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Gage, British commander in chief for ...read more