Live From the White House: The First-Ever Televised Presidential Speech


Between State of the Union addresses, U.N. speeches, press conferences, and even Daily Show appearances, seeing the President of the United States on your TV is fairly commonplace these days. But in the late 1940s, the opportunity to watch the most powerful man in the world from the comfort of your living room was something Americans had never been able to do before.

Though FDR experimented with television on a small scale in 1939 by using screens to speak to World’s Fair attendees, Harry Truman was the first president to use TV on a national level when he took to the airwaves October 5, 1947. His topic? How Americans could cut back on food consumption. European farmers, still recovering from WWII, were now struggling to stay afloat after a series of droughts, floods, and bouts of cold. In an effort to come to their aid, Truman delivered a televised address asking the nation for their help—while also scolding them.

“[Europeans] cannot get through the coming winter and spring without help—generous help—from the United States and from other countries which have food to spare,” Truman said.

He outlined four steps citizens could take to conserve food: Abstain from meat on Tuesdays, and poultry and eggs on Thursdays. Cut back on a slice of bread every day. And, he added, restaurants should only serve bread and butter by specific request.

Then came the admonishment:

“I realize that many millions of American housewives have already begun strict conservation measures. I say to those housewives, 'keep up the good work' and save even more when and where you can. On the other hand, there are also many Americans who are overeating and wasting food. Unless these people cut their consumption in the ways required, they will be taking more than a fair share of the supplies available. They will be personally contributing to increased inflation at home and to the desperate scarcity of food overseas.”

The White House was expected to abide by those rules as well. During the week of Truman's address, the Citizens Food Committee released the White House's menus:

Tuesday, luncheon—grapefruit, cheese souffle, buttered peas, grilled tomatoes, chocolate pudding; dinner—clear chicken soup, broiled salmon steak, scalloped potatoes, string beans, sauteed 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.

The vast majority of the world still didn’t have TVs in 1947, so Truman’s speech was also broadcast over the radio. Still, he was savvy enough to use the growing medium for another television first the following year: In 1948, Truman became the first presidential candidate to broadcast a paid political ad.

Listen to the whole speech here or read the transcript here

You Can Now Rent the Montgomery, Alabama Home of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald Through Airbnb
Chris Pruitt, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The former apartment of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, perhaps the most famous couple of the Jazz Age, is now available to rent on a nightly basis through Airbnb, The Chicago Tribune reports. While visitors are discouraged from throwing parties in the spirit of Jay Gatsby, they are invited to write, drink, and live there as the authors did.

The early 20th-century house in Montgomery, Alabama was home to the pair from 1931 to 1932. It's where Zelda worked on her only novel Save Me the Waltz and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote part of Tender Is the Night. The building was also the last home they shared with their daughter Scottie before she moved to boarding school.

In the 1980s, the house was rescued from a planned demolition and turned into a nonprofit. Today, the site is a museum and a spot on the Southern Literary Trail. While the first floor of the Fitzgerald museum, which features first-edition books, letters, original paintings, and other artifacts related to the couple, isn't available to rent, the two-bedroom apartment above it goes for $150 a night. Guests staying there will find a record player and a collection of jazz albums, pillows embroidered with Zelda Fitzgerald quotes, and a balcony with views of the property's magnolia tree. Of the four surviving homes Zelda and F. Scott lived in while traveling the world, this is the only one that's accessible to the public.

Though the Fitzgerald home is the only site on the Southern Literary Trail available to rent through Airbnb, it's just one of the trail's many historic homes. The former residences of Flannery O'Connor, Caroline Miller, and Lillian Smith are all open to the public as museums.

[h/t The Chicago Tribune]

Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]


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