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One of the more interesting tidbits of history from October in yesteryear didn't take place in Carroll County, but had an impact upon our farming community — and what television looks like today.

It was Oct. 5, 1947, that the first televised presidential speech took place. President Harry S. Truman took to the airwaves to deliver an address to the nation.

The topic wasn't war, the economy or health care ... it was wheat.

What was so important about wheat? Glad you asked. Barely two years had passed since the devastating war in Europe had ended, and the continent was still in chaos.

The war years had been difficult on many, to be sure, but nevertheless kind to Carroll County farmers. Crops were good, in spite of constant equipment and spare parts shortages, which were only aggravated by the fact that county agriculture had lost half its work force.

During the war, that work force shortage led to the establishment of a German soldier POW camp in Westminster in 1944 to help harvest the crops. Prisoners were paid 8 cents an hour, and folklore records that the prisoners were, more often than not, treated like family.

According to "Legacy of the Land," a book on Carroll County history by Carol Lee, "... hundreds of Boy Scouts, businessmen and high school students organized to help with harvests ... such voluntary groups contributed an estimated 78,000 man hours in the fields."

Lee writes that in 1940, "county farms were worth a total of $16 million; (by) 1945 they were worth $21.3 million," with farm production growing at a fast rate.

Having said all this, the fear in the Carroll community was that the bottom would fall out of the agricultural economy after the war, just as it had after World War I.

However, the Mother Nature that takes away can also deliver. According to old file notes, a glut of rain during the planting season preceded a drought at harvest time, leaving France and Italy's grain fields barren and Europe on the brink of famine.

This, in part, led to the development of the Marshall Plan, which kept farm foreign markets open and farm prices up -- until around 1954 when a horrid farm recession struck.

Truman's 1947 speech announced a major wheat initiative, but it was likely heard by very few Carroll County residents. In 1947, there were only about 14,000 television sets in use in the entire United States.

It also made little impression on Americans or the history books. The president didn't even mention the historic occasion in his memoirs.

No matter. The real impact upon the free world was in introducing the office of the president to television.

Not that that has had a lasting impact that certainly wasn't predicted at the time.

When he's not watching President Barack Obama on television seven days a week, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at kevindayhoff@gmail.com or visit him at www.westminstermarylandonline.net.


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