JFK’s Inauguration: A Colorful Account

vintage television RCA color 1950s

TV and John Kennedy were made for each other.

The Kennedy years stand out as a time bracketed by TV milestones. In the years between the Great Debates and the network coverage of the assassination and funeral of the president, television became truly central in Americans lives.

The images of those 4 days in November 1963 are  burned into our minds but a more colorful memory is his inauguration.

January 20, 1961-The Day a Black and White World Changed to Color

I was proud as a peacock.

The year was 1961. John F. Kennedy was the first president I ever saw sworn in on television and I got to see it in rich tonal color!

Despite the heavy snowstorm, my family  had trudged over  to my Aunt Judy’s house to watch on her RCA  Color TV, the first ever color broadcast of a president being sworn in. It was an auspicious and memorable day in the life of the nation and in mine

The young president, the old poet, the splendid speech, the triumphant parade, the brilliant sky and the shining snow were all brought to you in living color.

The Wonderful World of Color

Color TV was still a novelty; a thrilling, wholly new standard of viewing enjoyment.

The first color TV sets retailed at $1,000 in 1954. That was a lot of money for the few hours of broadcasting that would be on NBC during that year. Four years later color telecasting still averaged only 1 1/2hours a day nearly all of it on NBC alone. And the quality left much to be desired.

It would take another 10 years until sales of color television sets would really take off.

Because my Aunt and Uncle were one of the fortunate few who owned a genuine color TV we would be eyewitness to history. The color viewing experience, RCA promised, would be so real, so sensationally life-like, that you would swear you almost could feel the frosty wind that whipped through Washington DC that day.

Ring-a ding ding!

A Telegenic President

Life Magazine Covers JFK

(L) Vintage Life Magazine 11/21/60 The Victorious Kennedy’s ( and the vary pregnant Jackie) (R) Life Magazine Cover 1/27/61 The Kennedy Inauguration

Television and John Kennedy were made for one another and he gasped the nuances of television like a pro. Stylish JFK had the fresh air of progress; his energy as effervescent as a bottle of Pepsi.

JFK’s overriding campaign them in 1960 was the need to “get America moving again” and TV was the perfect medium to chronicle movement.

On the morning of November 9, 1960, the day after election day,  an unprecedented sense of familiarity on the part of the public toward a US president and his family began to develop because of TV.

At a televised press conference at the National Guard Armory in Hyannis Port, our new President-Elect Kennedy with pregnant wife Jackie at his side, dedicated himself to freedom around the world and then added before leaving, “So now my wife and i prepare for a new administration and a new baby.” It was a heartwarming and exciting story that television was only too happy to convey.

The transition from the Eisenhower administration to the New Frontier unfolded on television screens before our eyes  as JFKs every move was followed.

The Following Program is Brought to You in Living Color.

The Kennedy presidency began with incomparable dash and color.

It was a cold day for a cold war warrior to take office.

It had been cold all week on the East coast, the nations’ capital included. The second of 3 major Noreasters that occurred during the winter of 1960-61 was moving up the East Coast. The snow came on Thursday with winds howling, stinging gusts and whipping the snow down the streets.

Washington  DC was choked with a blanket of snow, bringing the Capital to  halt.

By dawn of Friday, inauguration day the snow had stopped. The skies were blue and cloudless and the Capital glistened in the sun, but it was frigid as the temperature was barely 20 degrees above zero.

The crowds, curious, expectant hopeful, huddled and shivering in the cold.

They watched restlessly as the bundled up dignitaries slowly took their place on the platform.

At twenty minutes after twelve, the 43-year-old  president-elect strode in and the spectators broke into wild applause. There stood their newly elected president young, handsome, tough and communicating confidence.

I proudly listened as Marian Anderson sang The Star Spangled Banner, restlessly observed the craggily cardinal as he boomed out a long invocation, and  anxiously watched the breath of elderly poet Robert Frost visible in the freezing air, the glare from the sun blinding him.

At nine minutes to one the Chief Justice Earl Warren came forward to administer the oath to the 35th president. Braving the elements, the vibrant president-elect without hat or coat, the family bible open before him answered in a firm tone. At last he began his inaugural address, his voice ringing out into the frosty air.

It was a day on which, as President Kennedy himself observed, the country passed into the hands of a new generation. In a great inaugural address President Kennedy, outlined his idea of the nation of the future, asking  Americans to consider not what your country can do for you but what we can do for our country.

I was to be part of a new thrilling generation.

After the seemingly stillness of the B&W Eisenhower years, suddenly the promise of a new young colorful vibrant president who promised to get America moving again seemed exhilarating, urging us to come alive …we’re in the wonderful world of color.

The New Frontier was off and running!

Who could ever have imagined that in just a thousand days, the world would be very black and white again.

Copyright (©) 2013 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved

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