Institute for Telecommunication Sciences / January 1949

January 1949: First Televised Presidential Inauguration

On January 20, 1949, for the first time in history the inauguration of an American president was televised for all the nation to see. Democrat Harry S. Truman had narrowly defeated Republican Thomas Dewey to clinch the presidency, despite widespread predictions that Dewey would win. Supreme Court Justice Fred Vinson presided over the oath of office, and television cameras broadcast the event live to a nation that was quickly adopting the new television technology. Truman's speech laid out an anti-communist agenda that would guide his foreign policy decisions; it was heard and seen instantly by Americans in their living rooms throughout the country. This event, which began an ongoing tradition of televising inaugural addresses, might never have happened without the work of the National Bureau of Standards Radio Division. As the government’s primary scientific agency, the NBS began its engagement in radio research at the beginning of the 20th century and in television research a few decades later. While companies like RCA and NBC focused their energies on using the new medium to its fullest, NBS scientists researched radio wave propagation, transmission, and reception, and coordinated with their regulatory counterparts to manage the use of the airwaves. ITS, a direct descendant of the Radio Division, continues to work to improve telecommunication technology through fundamental and applied research and engineering. ITS researchers also contribute their expertise to the organizations that establish the national and international standards for television transmission and equipment.