Coolidge Blog

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By Garland S. Tucker III     The following is adapted from Garland S. Tucker III’s new book, 1924: Coolidge, Davis, and the High Tide of American Conservatism (Coolidge Press). […]

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Coolidge Books for the Holidays

By Jerry Wallace   M. C. Murphy, Calvin Coolidge: The Presidency and Philosophy of a Progressive Conservative A new biography of Calvin Coolidge is certainly worth your attention. Mark C. […]

Calvin Coolidge’s First Presidential Broadcast

November 29, 2023

By Jerry L. Wallace

The clock in the U.S. House Chamber pointed to half past noon.[1] Congress had assembled for a joint session. Standing at the clerk’s desk in front of the Speaker’s dais, President Calvin Coolidge, wearing his gold-rimmed spectacles, began to deliver his Annual Message, which we now call the State of the Union. It was a highly anticipated event. The House chamber was packed, and a crowd had gathered in the Capitol plaza to listen to the president’s words through amplifiers. This was the only time Coolidge chose to deliver his Annual Message in person. The date was Thursday, December 6, 1923.

It had been four months since Coolidge was called to the presidency upon President Warren G. Harding’s sudden death. During that time, Coolidge had put his stamp on the presidency and developed his legislative and political plans, including a run for the Republican presidential nomination.[2] At the same time, as the Associated Press put it, he had maintained a “studied silence” on public questions.[3]

Now Coolidge spoke out boldly to the American people—and chose to use the new medium of broadcast radio to do so, allowing him to reach an audience of millions.[4]

A Message for the People

Coolidge’s intentions were twofold: first, to introduce himself to the American people, many of whom knew little of him other than that he was a conservative New Englander who was tight with his words; and second, to present to Congress and the public his legislative program, which closely followed his predecessor’s agenda.

The address ran about 6,700 words and took a little over an hour to deliver, with Coolidge making what Charles G. Ross, an experienced political correspondent for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, described as “a series of short, sharp explosions.” He presented an extensive agenda containing around thirty-three items, coming across as “a man of decision.” Coolidge told reporters that his call to reduce war taxes was his most important request.

The speech was a success. Its moderate conservative message was received well on Wall Street and Main Street, as well as down on the farm. Even the president’s opposition to the soldiers’ bonus bill, an item with significant bipartisan support, was taken positively, as it showed Coolidge’s determination to uphold his beliefs. Ross concluded, “From today [Coolidge] is a presidential candidate running on his own legs.”[5]

The White House saw Coolidge’s message as the keynote speech of his run for the Republican presidential nomination.[6] Senator Joseph T. Robinson, leader of the Senate Democrats, agreed, declaring it “the first speech in his campaign.”[7] Only days before, South Dakota Republicans had signaled their support for his nomination, making their state the first to do so.[8] A few days afterward, on December 15, Coolidge filled his campaign’s top leadership positions.[9] Henry Ford soon said, “I am for Coolidge,” ending speculation about the auto magnate’s presidential aspirations.[10]

The Technical Feat

As a public service, the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) provided a network of radio stations to broadcast Coolidge’s first presidential speech. This complex and expensive broadcast also bolstered the nascent radio industry, demonstrating the medium’s ability to garner a mass audience.

WCAP, a D.C. station, was responsible for capturing the president’s words at the Capitol and transmitting them by wire to WEAF in New York City. WEAF then distributed the address via special circuits to stations around the country, including WJAR in Providence, KSD in St. Louis, WDAF in Kansas City, and WFAA in Dallas. Altogether, six stations took part, using powerful Western Electric transmitters to reach a broad geographic area.[11] Other stations went off the air so as not to interfere with their broadcasts.

A Media Spectacle

AT&T considered it “an epoch-making event in American communication history.” President Coolidge was pleased, too. He wrote AT&T to thank them for the broadcast, stating that it “was an achievement of which you may well be proud.”[12]

The Kansas City Times reported that Coolidge “spoke direct to the greatest audience ever addressed by mortal man.”[13] Overnight, it was said, the president “was established as radio’s leading personality and attraction.”[14] Folks felt they were listening to an honest man, having a conservative mind but with a progressive streak in it. While president, Coolidge would fine-tune his radio skills and make more than sixty radio broadcasts.

One group that was particularly interested in the president’s Annual Message were Wall Street brokers. Brokerage houses made elaborate preparations to receive his words. While Coolidge was speaking, “the stock market tape ticked in listless fashion,” the Wall Street Journal reported.[15]

It should be mentioned that President Coolidge was not himself a radio fan. He did not spend evenings by the radio listening to The Happiness Boys. He left that to Mrs. Coolidge, an early radio enthusiast. But he did appreciate that radio allowed him to take his message into the homes of his fellow Americans—something never before possible—while remaining in Washington. Radio made for fewer exhausting and lengthy speaking trips around the country.

Coolidge said he was “very fortunate” to have come into office with radio.[16]

Correcting the Record

Newspapers of the day described the broadcast of Coolidge’s Annual Message as the first such broadcast—and this is still repeated today. This was not the case, however. President Warren G. Harding’s Annual Message of December 8, 1922, was the first to be sent out over the air. NOF, the Navy’s experimental radio station, located in Anacostia, made that broadcast. Although NOF had a limited range, its signal was picked up by other stations and rebroadcast. Harding’s words were heard as far west as the Rocky Mountains.[17]

With the success of the broadcast of his Annual Message, President Coolidge made another radio address four days later. In it, as honorary president of the Harding Memorial Foundation, he eulogized Warren Harding and urged listeners to support the memorialization effort. This broadcast, which ran about ten minutes, was the first to be made from the White House. It was carried over WCAP, WEAF, and WJAR, among others. In the days following, prominent state and local officials in dozens of major cities made similar appeals.[18]

By speaking directly to the American people, Calvin Coolidge established himself as a man worthy of their confidence, who could be trusted to steer the ship of state. He would go on to win the Republican nomination in June 1924 and then the presidency later that year. Thanks to Coolidge’s extensive and enthusiastic use of broadcast radio, he is remembered today as our first radio president. The new medium perfectly fitted his personality and speaking style.

Jerry L. Wallace is a Coolidge scholar, whose interest in Calvin Coolidge and the 1920s dates back over sixty-five years.  He has been a member of the Coolidge Presidential Foundation since 1972.  He has served the Foundation as a trustee and is now a member of its National Advisory Board.

[1] Noon was the customary time for joint sessions. Noontime, moreover, made for a large audience, for radios were then uncommon in the home, but folks could gather at businesses, clubs, and schools to listen to the president’s message.

[2] Coolidge wanted the presidential nomination. His appointment of C. Bascom Slemp, an experienced Republican politico, as secretary to the president, was an early indication of this. See Donald R. McCoy, Calvin Coolidge (New York: Macmillan, 1967), 151.

[3] Miami News-Metropolis, December 6, 1923, 1.

[4] What was new was commercial radio broadcasting, which commenced with newly licensed KDKA’s election night broadcast on November 2, 1920. Point-to-point radio, using Morse code, dated from Marconi’s work in the late nineteenth entury.

[5] St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 6, 1923, 1. Ross’s long article offers an excellent account of the address.  See also “Country Reacts Favorably to Coolidge Address,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 7, 1923, 1.

[6] Miami News-Metropolis, December 6, 1923, 1.

[7] Wall Street Journal, December 7, 1923, 7.

[8] “Coolidge Lays Campaign Plan,” Fort Worth Record-Telegram, December 6, 1923, 7.

[9] “Coolidge Candidacy Is Officially Announced,” Buffalo Enquirer, December 15, 1923, 1.

[10] “Ford Joins the Coolidge Forces,” News-Journal (Mansfield, OH), December 19, 1923, 1.

[11] William Peck Banning, Commercial Broadcasting Pioneer (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1946), 178.

[12] Ibid., 178–79.

[13] Kansas City Times, December 7, 1923, 15.

[14] Banning, Commercial Broadcasting Pioneer, 220.

[15] “Coolidge Message Widely Acclaimed,” Wall Street Journal, December 7, 1923, 1.

[16] James Watson, As I Knew Them (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1936), p. 239.

[17] Jerry L. Wallace, “The Centennial of the First Broadcast of a Presidential Annual Message to the Congress, December 8, 1922,”

[18] “Coolidge Will Broadcast Talk,” Tacoma (WA) Daily Ledger, November 29, 1923, 3.

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