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What The Early State Of The Union Broadcasts Looked Like

Jan 28, 2014

Today, the State of the Union address is broadcast in HD to your television, tablet and smartphone.

Earlier Americans weren't so fortunate. President Harry Truman's 1947 speech was the first State of the Union to be broadcast on television — a development that hardly caused a stir at the time.

In a preview published a few days prior to the speech, The New York Times didn't get around to mentioning that fact until five paragraphs in. Instead, the account paid closer attention to calculating the length of the address: "The message is tentatively to be about 6,000 words long and to require about 50 minutes reading time at Mr. Truman's regular speaking pace of 120 words a minute."

It's no wonder newspapers lacked enthusiasm for the broadcasts of old. Grainy and shot in what seemed to be a room full of smoke, they weren't much to look at.

"The camera peered about the House chamber for awhile," read a TIME magazine article that dryly described the scene surrounding Truman's 1948 speech, "[before] CBS switched to a Jackson Heights supermarket for a customer-participation show called Missus Goes A-Shopping ... A bubbling master of ceremonies asked some small children to imitate animals."

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