How the State of the Union Address Made Its Broadcast Debut

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When President Donald Trump delivers the 95th in-person annual State of the Union address live on Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET, there will be a variety of ways to watch the broadcast of his address to Congress — a situation that, unlike the address itself, is decidedly modern.

Though the delivery of some form of annual message to Congress is required of the President by the Constitution, the State of Union address was first broadcast to a large radio audience in 1923 when President Calvin Coolidge made his annual speech. It wasn’t until Harry Truman, the 33rd President, that the annual State of the Union address was first broadcast to a live television audience.

That first State of the Union to be broadcast on network TV was Truman’s speech in 1947. It was also the year that the yearly speech officially became known as the State of the Union address; it was simply called the “Annual Message” prior to that, and in some situations still takes that name. Truman gave his address from the House Chamber on Capitol Hill, the same place where the President will deliver Tuesday’s 2018 address.

As journalist Matthew Algeo describes in his book Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure, Truman was wary of the way the new medium might affect politics, but he could see that it was powerful. “The day cannot be far off when our homes, schools, offices, and automobiles will be equipped with television sets. We will see news and sporting events while they are actually happening,” he predicted in a 1943 speech — a forecast he himself helped bring to fruition.

The first State of the Union address to be broadcast at night wasn’t until 1965, when Lyndon B. Johnson broke with tradition and delivered his address in the evening in order to reach a wider audience.

Fast forward to this year’s State of the Union and technology has come a long way. President Trump’s campaign website is offering donors the chance to have their names broadcast on a screen during Tuesday’s address in exchange for a “special State of the Union contribution.”

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