The next milestone of communication technology in American history is, of course, the television. Electronic television was successfully tested by Philo Farnsworth in 1927 and became a fixture in American homes at the very end of the 1940s and through the 1950s (Eschner, 2017). This new communication technology had the unparalleled experience of delivering immediate information, including visuals, to home viewers. Farnsworth’s invention revolutionized not only how we consume entertainment, but also how we get our news and follow politics.
Today, we’re used to seeing press conferences where the president answers questions from reporters and provides updates on important current events and national developments. Press conferences began during the administration of Woodrow Wilson in 1913, but the first televised press conference took place in 1955, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower allowed cameras into the White House to broadcast one from the Indian Treaty Room (Kumar, 2011).
Eisenhower may have been the first president to hold televised press conferences, but historians generally consider John F. Kennedy to be one of the first “television politicians.” In fact, television may have been a deciding factor in the 1960 presidential election between Kennedy and Richard Nixon. For the first time in 1960, presidential debates were broadcast on both radio and television. After a debate in which Kennedy appeared tan and fit while Nixon looked pale and ill at ease, Kennedy’s poll numbers jumped (Parkinson, 2010).
Kennedy’s communication skill and charisma were perfectly suited to the medium of television, and he would go on to use TV very effectively during his administration. For example, during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, he used televised addresses to communicate with a public that was terrified of a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union.
Source: Strategic Education, Inc. 2020. Learn from the Past, Prepare for the Future.
Eschner, Kat. (2017, August 28). The Farmboy Who Invented Television. Smithsonian Magazine. www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/farmboy-who-invented-television-while-plowing-180964607
Kumar, Martha Joynt. (2011, May 16). Presidential Press Conferences. The White House Historical Association. www.whitehousehistory.org/presidential-press-conferences
Parkinson, Hilary. (2010, November 15). Does Television Affect How We Elect Presidents? Pieces of History, National Archives. www.prologue.blogs.archives.gov/2010/11/15/does-television-affect-how-we-elect-presidents