Today in History: The Day America Got an Insider's View of the Oval Office
by M.C. Millman
On October 5, 1947, President Harry Truman (1884-1972) made the first-ever televised presidential address, giving his viewers an up-close and personal view of the fabled interior of the Oval Office.
The focus of his speech was asking for the support of his fellow Americans for the Marshall Plan, which provided food aid to Europe, where people were suffering from a famine while recovering from World War II.
Back in 1947, most Americans listened to the radio for news. Still, Truman not only televised all of his speeches from then on, but he also was the first presidential candidate to broadcast a paid political ad.
The view Truman of the Oval Office was a first for America, but the office already had a rich history. The Oval Office became the main office of the president in October of 1909 after President William Howard Taft held a competition to select an architect. He wanted a plan to enlarge the West Wing's temporary Executive office built by President Theodore Roosevelt's administration.
The winning architect modeled the president's new office after the Blue Room, built in 1792 for the new White House. The Blue Room was an oval-shaped room built for the first president of the United States, most likely as a setting for George Washington to conduct political levees.
The levee was a tradition practiced in English court. In America, the tradition continued as a formal public ceremony, which was by invitation only. Prominent guests would enter the room, walk over to greet the president standing before the fireplace, and bow as a presidential aide announced the guest's name.
The visitor then stepped back, allowing the next guest to repeat the performance. When all guests had been introduced, the group would be standing in a semicircle, which is why an oval room was the perfect setting.
The president would then approach the visitors individually, greet them by name, and exchange a few words before bowing and greeting the next guest.
After everyone had spoken to the president, he would return to his place before the mantel. An aid would signal, and the guests would leave, one by one, after bowing to the president but without exchanging another word before leaving the room.