The 1st Televised Kennedy-Nixon Debate
On September 26, 1960 Democratic candidate Senator John F. Kennedy and Republican candidate Vice President Richard Nixon participated in the first of four televised debates. Americans for the first time could tune in and watch presidential debates on television, or listen on the radio.
About 70 million people tuned in for the Kennedy/Nixon debates. When they turned on their television sets, they were actually able to see Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. Nixon had refused makeup for the cameras, and hadn’t gained back his natural weight after a serious knee injury and two weeks in the hospital. Kennedy, on the other hand, had been campaigning in southern California and appeared on camera with a healthy tan.
The story has it that those Americans who tuned in over the radio believed the two candidates were evenly matched, but tended to think Nixon had won the debates. But those 70 million who watched the candidates on the television believed Kennedy was the clear victor.
While there aren’t any qualified statistics to back up this claim, what is certain is that Kennedy took a leap in the polls after the debate. Appearances, it seemed, suddenly mattered in Presidential races, far more than they ever had before. Kennedy himself said after the election that “it was TV more than anything else that turned the tide” toward his victory.
It’s curious to think who might have been elected if modern technology had been around throughout U.S. history. Washington wore dentures. Lincoln had a high-pitched voice. William Howard Taft weighed over 300 pounds. James Madison was 5′ 4″.
What pre-television President would you most like to see speak?
Photographs of the Final Days of the Nixon Administration
President Nixon meets with the Senate leadership. 8/8/74.
President Nixon on the set, preparing to give the resignation speech. 8/8/74.
Kennedy vs. Nixon - The First Televised Presidential Debate
By 1960, television was fast becoming the primary means by which to reach people. That year, Senator John F. Kennedy introduced a powerful new factor into American political campaigning when he challenged Vice President Richard M. Nixon to debate the issues in a series of joint television appearances. Knowing that he was the front-runner, Nixon’s advisers cautioned him against accepting the challenge, but Nixon, confident of his debating skills did accept. The political confrontations that followed were the most historic since the Lincoln-Douglas debate of 1858.
Approximately 70 million Americans- at the time the largest political audience in U.S. history- watched on the night of September 26 as the candidates for the Presidency faced each other on television for the first time.
Image: First televised Presidential debate with candidates Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon, broadcasted from the WBBM television studio in Chicago, Illinois. 9/26/60.
-from the JFK Library
The 1952 Republican National Convention was held at the Chicago Amphitheater from July 7-11. It was the first political convention broadcast live by television with special studio facilities provided for all the major networks.
In addition to being the first live telecast, the GOP convention was the debut event for a new device still used by politicians today, the “TelePrompTer. “ Former president, Herbert Hoover, was the first person to use this device at the RNC on July 8, 1952.
-from the Hoover Library
The Development of TV Spots
Television became an important part of campaign fundraising for the 1952 presidential election.
These storyboards are from an Eisenhower campaign strategy book that illustrates how money-raising goals were achieved through “TV Spots.”
Creative Women Behind Ike’s 1952 Campaign
During the 1952 campaign, Jacqueline Cochran, businesswoman and aviatrix, persuaded employees at Walt Disney Studios to produce an animated cartoon in support of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s candidacy.
Staff at Disney worked off the clock to produce the short animated commercial, “We’ll Take Ike.” The lyrics for this song were written by Gil George, who was actually Hazel George. She was first hired as a nurse at Disney Studios. After her knack for writing was discovered she wrote song lyrics for The Mickey Mouse Club and a number of Disney animated feature films.
In the pictured telegram, Jacqueline Cochran wrote, “I personally believe the proposed short could be the greatest piece of propaganda in the whole campaign…” 9/30/52
Also pictured, a letter from Bill Anderson at Disney that accompanied an autographed animation cel setup and copy of the song, “We’ll Take Ike” for the newly elected President Eisenhower. 11/19/52.
-from the Eisenhower Library
"Each viewer will see the General just as if he were talking to him."
For the first time in 1952, television became an important part of campaign strategy for the Presidential election. These notes describe the direction and goals for an upcoming TV appearance in Kansas City by Dwight D. Eisenhower. 9/19/52.