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"Largely through television," notes historian William Seale, the White House "is the best known house in the world, the instantly familiar symbol of the Presidency, flashed daily on millions and millions of TV screens everywhere."1

J. B. West was Assistant Chief Usher at the White House from 1941 to 1957, and Chief Usher from 1957 to 1969. During the Eisenhower administration, West had an inside view of television's role as both a communication tool for the President and a form of entertainment and relaxation for the First Family.

West refers to television as "the electronic novelty." The White House had two TV sets, and West recalls that the Eisenhowers embraced TV wholeheartedly. In 1953, the White House press secretary announced that the President had decided to admit television and radio into his press conferences.2

West comments that President Eisenhower's "wide smile, his proud, erect posture, his direct manner were magically carried to homes around the country by the TV cameras."3

According to West, Ike and Mamie Eisenhower regularly watched the evening news while having their meals on tray-tables. He notes that Mrs. Eisenhower's enjoyment of As the World Turns "initiated the Television Era in the White House."4

Chief Usher J.B. West in the White House Ushers’ Office.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library

Footnotes & Resources

  1. William Seale, The President's House (Washington, D.C., White House Historical Association, 1986), 1052–1053.
  2. "Press Talk TV Explained," New York Times, Jan. 26, 1953: 11.
  3. J. B. West, Upstairs at the White House (New York: Coward-McCann, 1973), 159.
  4. Ibid.