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Feb. 14, 1962: Jacqueline Kennedy gives a TV tour of the White House

Christy Karras
February 14, 2014

Visiting the White House in person is a treat, but it’s not always an option. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy used the relatively new medium of television to invite the entire nation into her home in a special Valentine’s Day broadcast in 1962. Interest in Kennedy’s hour-long tour with CBS broadcaster Charles Collingwood was so high that all three networks (yes, there were only three then!) broadcast the special, which also won a special Emmy award.

“Jackie” Kennedy established much of the look the White House has today. Previous presidents had furnished the house with their own belongings, and many of the furnishings specifically designed for the house had disappeared over the years. As soon as the Kennedys moved to Washington, the First Lady made restoring the mansion one of her top priorities. “It's so important... the setting in which the presidency is presented to the world, to foreign visitors,” she said during the tour. “The American people should be proud of it.”

Kennedy set about finding furnishings that fit the house’s significance and history, working to ensure that the pieces she brought in would remain with the house. She paid for renovations partly by publishing the first White House guidebook.

The 1962 tour was a major TV milestone. Not only did it give Americans a glimpse inside the presidential home, the film was copied and distributed to more than 100 countries, boosting America’s Cold-War image. It was also an early example of a television show about a destination. Now, travel-related networks and online videos give people a taste of new destinations from their living rooms (or their phones or tablets), whetting appetites for in-person visits.