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    Video: President Coolidge Needed a Teleprompter

    Written by

    Derek Mead

    We've only had 44 presidents in our country's history, which makes it all the more fascinating that some of them (like Chester Arthur) aren't particularly well-recognized. Calvin Coolidge, who was thrust into the hot seat following the death of Warren G. Harding, is a kind of middle-of-the-road character: He's gone down in history as a pretty solid president, having cleaned up in the wake of scandals before him and having led the country during a nice period of free-market prosperity–which, of course, collapsed into the Great Depression when he left office. Whether or not his deregulatory policies are to blame for that is an enduring question, and one that's thoroughly relevant today.

    He also holds the dubious honor of being one of the first presidents in the film age, and his address above is the earliest such filmed address I've been able to find. (If you can find something earlier, by all means please share.) It's shocking in this day of 24 hour news and YouTube town halls, but the first newsreel only appeared in 1908, and the first wide-spread televised speech didn't occur until 1947.

    Coolidge's presidency came just as the medium was gaining popularity, and while his speech laying out a Republican vision of small government and low taxes is familiar, he's hardly as slick with the camera as any politician today. Just look at his holdovers from radio: He spends his time looking at flashcards (note the lack of a dais) and when he does look around, it's not into the camera, but around at whoever (not a frothing horde of press, surely) was hanging out at the White House that day.

    I actually like it, it feels less Big Brother-y than the Presidential Staredowns we get in addresses today. But from a political strategist's viewpoint, having the big boss stare at his notes all the time doesn't exactly project power. (Perhaps, then, it's no coincidence that the teleprompter first appeared during the early days of the Cold War.) It's a rather interesting look at how presidents are indeed humans, and how they'll always use the technology of the day to project their stump as widely as possible.