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Bill Clinton Participating in the First Presidential Webchat // Getty Images
Bill Clinton Participating in the First Presidential Webchat // Getty Images

8 Presidential Communication Firsts

Bill Clinton Participating in the First Presidential Webchat // Getty Images
Bill Clinton Participating in the First Presidential Webchat // Getty Images

When Franklin Roosevelt declared “I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking” in a radio address to the American people on March 12, 1933, he was making history. The address—in which Roosevelt explained his reasoning behind calling a banking holiday to reorganize the battered industry and to announce their reopening—was the first of FDR's “fireside chats,” which represented a game-changing communications strategy and use of technology for The White House. Roosevelt bypassed the news media and spoke directly to the citizenry, creating an aura of calmness and confidence during the Great Depression and World War II (though he never gave a radio address near an actual fireplace). Here are eight other firsts and breakthroughs in presidential communication.

1. First State of the Union Address // George Washington

Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution stipulates that the president “shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” The task first fell to George Washington eight months after his inauguration. On January 8, 1790, the former general addressed Congress at the provincial capital of New York City. Because the nation was new, the address covered some basics of maintaining a country. Washington called for the creation of a standing army; money to fund foreign relations; a process for naturalizing foreigners, “[u]niformity in the currency, weights, and measures,” and “the promotion of science and literature.”

2. First Telegraph Line // Abraham Lincoln

Congress authorized funding for Samuel F.B. Morse to build a test telegraph between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore in 1843. While Lincoln’s may not have been the first administration to send or receive information via telegraph, it was the first to have a line installed in the War Department, starting in May 1862. (Previously, public officials who wanted to wire a message had to stand in line in a clerk’s office with everyone else.) Throughout the Civil War, Lincoln used the line extensively, starting his day by shifting through communication from various state governors and generals. Some nights, he even slept in the telegraph room. The wire also allowed him to directly oversee the war, giving specific orders for movements and troop counts.

3. First Telephone Line // Rutherford B. Hayes

Fred A. Gower, the managing agent of Alexander Graham Bell, personally oversaw the installation of the first telephone line in the White House in 1877. Gower helped President Rutherford B. Hayes dial up Bell at a hotel in Providence, Rhode Island, in June of that year. According to the Providence Journal, “The President listened carefully while a gradually increasing smile wreathed his lips, and wonder shone in his eyes more and more, until he took the little instrument from his ear, looked at it a moment in surprise, and remarked, ‘That is wonderful.’” The phone was connected permanently to the only other one in Washington, that of the Treasury Department.

4. First Radio Address // Warren G. Harding

Roosevelt was not the first president heard over the airwaves. That honor goes to Warren G. Harding. On June 14, 1922, Harding gave a speech to commemorate the unveiling of a memorial to Francis Scott Key. Due to concerns that too many people would want to hear Harding speak for the venue to accommodate, the decision was made to broadcast the speech on radio. Originally, a transmitting station was going to be built in Baltimore, but that was deemed too expensive. Instead, Harding's voice was transmitted via telephone to the Anacostia broadcasting station and then from Anacostia broadcast to the people of Baltimore. A few months later, Harding used the same transmit-to-Anacostia trick for his State of the Union, which, according to a contemporary New York Times article, was “passed along through relay stations to a good part of the country,” including his sick wife.

5. First Televised Address // Harry Truman

There were 44,000 TVs in the U.S. when President Harry Truman made the first televised primetime address on October 5, 1947. Truman essentially called on Americans to eat less, saving the country’s excess food supply for European countries still recovering from World War II. Truman suggested Americans skip meat on Tuesdays and eggs and poultry on Thursdays and set aside a slice of bread each day. He also suggested restaurants skip the complimentary bread and butter. “We believe that self-control is the best control,” he said. “From now on, we shall be testing at every meal the degree to which each of us is willing to exercise self-control for the good of all.”

6. First Email // Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton has often said that the first email he sent as president was to astronaut John Glenn, who had recently boarded the International Space Station to test the effects of space on aging. But as The Atlantic confirmed last year, this is a complete myth. John Gibbons, Clinton’s Science Advisor, explained, “we wanted to introduce the President to email and the Net. So we brought him over to the old EOB, and he sat down in front of this computer—it may have been the first time he sat down in front of a computer—and showed him how email worked and gave him his email address over across the street in the Oval Office. So he typed in his first email message. It was something like, Bill Clinton, it’s time to come home for lunch. Signed, Hillary, something like that. I saved a copy of it. That was his first email.” And in 1994, the New York Times reported on an email that Clinton sent to the Prime Minister of Sweden. And in what was described as a breach of netiquette even back then, it was “COMPOSED ENTIRELY OF CAPITAL LETTERS.”

7. First Webchat // Bill Clinton

Almost exactly a year after his purported exchange with Glenn, Clinton became the first president to take questions from Internet users in a forum hosted by Democratic Leadership Council and the Internet company Excite@Home. Digital communications had boomed during his administration. In 1993, 1.3 million computers were connected to the web. By 1999, 56 million were online. For 90 minutes on November 8, 1999, a moderator sorted through questions posed to Clinton and an assistant typed out his answers. (The 53-year-old president admitted to being “technologically challenged.”) About 50,000 watched the video feed. Clinton responded to a questioner that the chances of a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians were “better than 50-50.” He also told “Cynthia in Arizona” that he was not hoarding food in preparation for the Y2K computer crash.

8. First Tweet // Barack Obama

Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign made unprecedented use of social media. When he was elected to office, his staff instituted The White House Twitter account, while political allies kept up his @BarackObama. Obama never sent a tweet from his own fingers, however, until a tour of the Red Cross’s Washington, D.C. headquarters on January 18, 2010. A Red Cross employee apparently coaxed Obama to hit the “send” button on a tweet reading, “President Obama and the First Lady are here visiting our disaster operation center right now,” marking the first tweet physically delivered by a U.S. president. On May 18, 2015, Obama established his own Twitter account, @POTUS.

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15 Heartwarming Facts About Mister Rogers
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Though Mister Rogers' Neighborhood premiered 50 years ago, Fred Rogers remains an icon of kindness for the ages. An innovator of children’s television, his salt-of-the-earth demeanor and genuinely gentle nature taught a generation of kids the value of kindness. In celebration of the groundbreaking children's series' 50th anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about everyone’s favorite “neighbor.”

1. HE WAS BULLIED AS A CHILD.

According to Benjamin Wagner, who directed the 2010 documentary Mister Rogers & Me—and was, in fact, Rogers’s neighbor on Nantucket—Rogers was overweight and shy as a child, and often taunted by his classmates when he walked home from school. “I used to cry to myself when I was alone,” Rogers said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.” It was this experience that led Rogers to want to look below the surface of everyone he met to what he called the “essential invisible” within them.

2. HE WAS AN ORDAINED MINISTER.

Rogers was an ordained minister and, as such, a man of tremendous faith who preached tolerance wherever he went. When Amy Melder, a six-year-old Christian viewer, sent Rogers a drawing she made for him with a letter that promised “he was going to heaven,” Rogers wrote back to his young fan:

“You told me that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. It means a lot to me to know that. And, I appreciated the scripture verse that you sent. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I want you to know that Jesus is important to me, too. I hope that God’s love and peace come through my work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

3. HE RESPONDED TO ALL HIS FAN MAIL.

Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’s very regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer and included time for studying, writing, making phone calls, swimming, weighing himself, and responding to every fan who had taken the time to reach out to him.

“He respected the kids who wrote [those letters],” Heather Arnet, an assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005. “He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."

According to Arnet, the fan mail he received wasn’t just a bunch of young kids gushing to their idol. Kids would tell Rogers about a pet or family member who died, or other issues with which they were grappling. “No child ever received a form letter from Mister Rogers," Arnet said, noting that he received between 50 and 100 letters per day.

4. ANIMALS LOVED HIM AS MUCH AS PEOPLE DID.

It wasn’t just kids and their parents who loved Mister Rogers. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who understands 2000 English words and can also converse in American Sign Language, was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watcher, too. When Rogers visited her, she immediately gave him a hug—and took his shoes off.

5. HE WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED MUSICIAN.

Though Rogers began his education in the Ivy League, at Dartmouth, he transferred to Rollins College following his freshman year in order to pursue a degree in music (he graduated Magna cum laude). In addition to being a talented piano player, he was also a wonderful songwriter and wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood—plus hundreds more.

6. HIS INTEREST IN TELEVISION WAS BORN OUT OF A DISDAIN FOR THE MEDIUM.

Rogers’s decision to enter into the television world wasn’t out of a passion for the medium—far from it. "When I first saw children's television, I thought it was perfectly horrible," Rogers told Pittsburgh Magazine. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous medium to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."

7. KIDS WHO WATCHED MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD RETAINED MORE THAN THOSE WHO WATCHED SESAME STREET.

A Yale study pitted fans of Sesame Street against Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watchers and found that kids who watched Mister Rogers tended to remember more of the story lines, and had a much higher “tolerance of delay,” meaning they were more patient.

8. ROGERS’S MOM KNIT ALL OF HIS SWEATERS.

If watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gives you sweater envy, we’ve got bad news: You’d never be able to find his sweaters in a store. All of those comfy-looking cardigans were knitted by Fred’s mom, Nancy. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Rogers explained how his mother would knit sweaters for all of her loved ones every year as Christmas gifts. “And so until she died, those zippered sweaters I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother,” he explained.

9. HE WAS COLORBLIND.

Those brightly colored sweaters were a trademark of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but the colorblind host might not have always noticed. In a 2003 article, just a few days after his passing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that:

Among the forgotten details about Fred Rogers is that he was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup.

He liked both, but at lunch one day 50 years ago, he asked his television partner Josie Carey to taste it for him and tell him which it was.

Why did he need her to do this, Carey asked him. Rogers liked both, so why not just dip in?

"If it's tomato soup, I'll put sugar in it," he told her.

10. HE WORE SNEAKERS AS A PRODUCTION CONSIDERATION.

According to Wagner, Rogers’s decision to change into sneakers for each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was about production, not comfort. “His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set,” wrote Wagner.

11. MICHAEL KEATON GOT HIS START ON THE SHOW.

Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton's first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.

12. ROGERS GAVE GEORGE ROMERO HIS FIRST PAYING GIG, TOO.

It's hard to imagine a gentle, soft-spoken, children's education advocate like Rogers sitting down to enjoy a gory, violent zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead, but it actually aligns perfectly with Rogers's brand of thoughtfulness. He checked out the horror flick to show his support for then-up-and-coming filmmaker George Romero, whose first paying job was with everyone's favorite neighbor.

“Fred was the first guy who trusted me enough to hire me to actually shoot film,” Romero said. As a young man just out of college, Romero honed his filmmaking skills making a series of short segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, creating a dozen or so titles such as “How Lightbulbs Are Made” and “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy.” The zombie king, who passed away in 2017, considered the latter his first big production, shot in a working hospital: “I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made. What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.”

13. ROGERS HELPED SAVE PUBLIC TELEVISION.

In 1969, Rogers—who was relatively unknown at the time—went before the Senate to plead for a $20 million grant for public broadcasting, which had been proposed by President Johnson but was in danger of being sliced in half by Richard Nixon. His passionate plea about how television had the potential to turn kids into productive citizens worked; instead of cutting the budget, funding for public TV increased from $9 million to $22 million.

14. HE ALSO SAVED THE VCR.

Years later, Rogers also managed to convince the Supreme Court that using VCRs to record TV shows at home shouldn’t be considered a form of copyright infringement (which was the argument of some in this contentious debate). Rogers argued that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Again, he was convincing.

15. ONE OF HIS SWEATERS WAS DONATED TO THE SMITHSONIAN.

In 1984, Rogers donated one of his iconic sweaters to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

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5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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