In a world in which images and videos can be shared instantaneously to an unlimited audience, it is difficult to imagine how events were communicated and consumed by the public without modern technology. In the case of live television broadcasting, a major milestone was made with the first live address on the occasion of the opening ceremony of World Expo 1939 New York.

This significant feat was achieved by the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) on the opening day of the Expo, which was appropriately themed “Building the World of Tomorrow”. At 3.12pm on 30 April, President Franklin D. Roosevelt began making his speech to declare the Expo open. The ceremony was filmed by NBC from a mobile van, with the footage immediately retransmitted from the top of the Empire State Building, making it the first time that members of the public could see and hear the President as and when he spoke, while they were in their living rooms.

With television ownership remaining relatively limited at the time – with an estimated 100-200 sets in New York City – the retransmission marked a new era of mass communications. In addition to those watching at home, a number of television sets on the Expo site also showed the President’s speech, using larger (12”x9”) and brighter screens. Throughout the Expo, visitors had the chance to have themselves filmed and see themselves, creating a buzz and signalling the arrival of a new form of public news and entertainment.

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