On October 5, 1947, President Harry S. Truman gave the first-ever televised address from the White House.
That’s an interesting fact in itself. Television was still a novelty and there were only some 44,000 sets in American homes. Most Americans still got their news from the radio and that would rapidly change as television became a fixture in the American landscape.
But more remarkable is what he said. The president asked Americans to make a sacrifice.
Truman requested Americans refrain from eating meat and eggs on different days to help stockpile food supplies as post-war Europe struggled to recover from the ravages of World War II.
The situation in Europe is grim and forbidding as winter approaches. Despite the vigorous efforts of the European people, their crops have suffered so badly from droughts, floods, and cold that the tragedy of hunger is a stark reality.
The nations of Western Europe will soon be scraping the bottom of the food barrel. They cannot get through the coming winter and spring without help–generous help-from the United States and from other countries which have food to spare.
I know every American feels in his heart that we must help to prevent starvation and distress among our fellow men in other countries…
It is simple and straightforward. It can be understood by all. Learn it–memorize it–keep it always in mind. Here it is: One: Use no meat on Tuesdays.
Two: Use no poultry or eggs on Thursdays.
Three: Save a slice of bread every day.
Four: Public eating places will serve bread and butter only on request.
Complete Text and Source: Harry S. Truman, Radio and Television Address Concluding a Program by the Citizens Food Committee Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project October 5, 1947.
The effort was largely symbolic and was a prelude to the far more ambitious Marshall Plan, which had a much greater impact on post-World War II Europe. Officially known as the Economic Recovery Act of 1948, it was signed into law by Truman in April 1948.
This piece of history is all the more striking during the current presidency and a pandemic. More than 200,000 people have died. Large numbers of Americans are out of work. Families are on food lines. Can you imagine anyone in this government urging a sacrifice for the public good?
It would be a great reminder of the “better angels of our nature.” But what are the chances?