Institute for Telecommunication Sciences / April 1939

April 1939: First Television Appearance by a U.S. President

On April 30, 1939, Franklin Delano Roosevelt made the first appearance on television by a sitting president. Roosevelt had already become a regular visitor to citizen’s living rooms through his extensive use of radio. During his presidency he made 27 radio speeches that became known as “fireside chats” because of their informal nature. Roosevelt’s first televised speech opened the 1939 World’s Fair in New York on the 150th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration. Roosevelt’s words emphasized the unity of the nation and the scientific and cultural progress that had been made since Washington was in office. Televising the president’s address was a sign that the country was embracing the very new medium, despite the rarity of household television sets. World War II interrupted television development, but following the war, television production exploded. By 1950, 1 in 10 Americans owned a television, and they were installed in bars around the country. ITS’s predecessor, the Central Radio Propagation Laboratory (CRPL), was instrumental in researching the use of the VHF band in which television was broadcast. As television broadcasting increased in the 1950s, so did CRPL’s research into VHF antennas and propagation. CRPL also worked to understand the UHF frequencies that television eventually expanded into. CRPL’s work supported new television technologies and increased use of the medium. ITS's current work in quality assessment of video and audio transmission supports the mobile streaming technologies that are challenging the television industry for market share.