On October 5, 1947, President Harry Truman made the first-ever televised address from the White House. Of course, this by itself was an historical feat.
But, more so, it was the content of that speech that we should remember.
Truman used the speech to urge Americans to cut back on their use of grain as an effort to help starving Europeans.
At the time of Truman’s conservation speech, Europe was still recovering from World War II and suffering from famine. Truman was worried that if the United States didn’t provide food aid, his Marshall Plan would fall apart.
The Marshall Plan, officially known as the European Recovery Plan, was an American aid initiative to Western Europe where the United States pledged over $13 billion dollars (approximately $132 billion in current dollar value) in economic aid to support the European economy after World War II.
Back to Truman: the President asked farmers and distillers to reduce grain use and urged the public to forgo meat on Tuesdays, eggs and poultry on Thursdays, and save a slice of bread each day.
This food program ended up being short-lived. The Marshall Plan succeeded in rebuilding Europe’s economy.
As an interesting side note, in 1947, television was not a widely viewed medium. In fact, the number of tv sets in American homes only numbered in the thousands. But, by the early 1950s, millions of Americans owned TVs.
Though the majority of Americans missed Truman’s TV debut, this speech marked the beginning of an impactful and vital relationship between the White House and television news. (A relationship that we are perhaps witnessing the apex of today).
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 advertisement. Truman also pioneered the White House telecast.
Though Truman is responsible for bringing tv to the White House it was actually President Roosevelt who first appeared on television (technically). On April 30, 1939, Roosevelt gave a speech at the World’s Fair in New York City. However, it was to an extremely limited audience as it aired only on receivers at the fairgrounds.
But, back to Truman’s speech.
Let’s all take a moment to revel in a time when the United States had a President who chose to step outside the bounds, who utilized every channel he had, who stopped at nothing to make good on his obligation.
This was a man who did all he could to make sure that a people suffering from starvation and the perils of war’s total decimation were made whole again.
As Puerto Rico faces severely limited electricity, water, and food, they have nowhere to turn. Their homes have been destroyed and the United States has turned a cold shoulder.
President Trump’s response? He dedicated a golf trophy, blamed them for a budget crisis, and tossed out paper towels. Great Again? Let history be the judge of that.