Hatteberg's People - Jerry Wallace

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We are so used to hearing presidential candidates on the radio and television we hardly think about it. But an Oxford, Kansas man is making sure that we know about one former President's pioneering use of radio in the 1920’s. Jerry Wallace is not someone you would expect to find in Oxford. While his roots are in the Midwest, much of his life has been spent in Washington, D.C.

“Oh, I feel very comfortable here,” Wallace proclaims.

In Oxford, the Arkansas River is wide but not too deep. It runs near Wallace's home. Like the river, Wallace had a long ‘life’s’ journey on his way to this small community.

“I wanted to return to the heartland, almost from the time I arrived in Washington," he says. "I was looking forward to coming back to the middle part of the country.”

Wallace spent most of his career in Washington D.C. working for the National Archives. He is a professional archivist and was also the historian/archivist for three presidential inaugural committees. Now in his retirement, he has written a new book. It’s called Calvin Coolidge: Our First Radio President.

“He adapted to the radio very early on," Wallace explains. "It was the key to his presidency and, in fact, a key to his nomination in 1924."

We don’t hear much about President Calvin Coolidge anymore. He was called ‘Silent Cal’, but he did play an important part in the history of radio because in his 1924 election he used radio has his primary campaign tool.

He used the radio in connection to his annual message to Congress which we now call the State of the Union message. Wallace says he thinks It was that speech that guaranteed Coolidge the nomination for the presidency in 1924.

In the recesses of his Oxford home, Wallace is surrounded by the articles of research that became part of his book.

“I think the thing that surprised me about Coolidge and radio was the fact that he not only saw the advantages of radio himself in a political sense, but he actually went out of his way to make himself successful at the use of radio. Historians have been writing on Coolidge and we are getting a more accurate view of the man and his times during the 1920’s which are key to our modern era.”

Calvin Coolidge could have no greater friend than historian Jerry Wallace, but Wallace says we must understand that historic figures are also human.

“They are complicated human beings and, like all of us, they have their weaknesses and their faults and that is true, I guess, of everyone.”

So deep in Kansas, an Oxford man’s pursuit of history is changing the way we see former presidents. For Jerry Wallace, it’s these small details about presidents like Coolidge that tell us what we want in future presidents.

“He was a person who spoke the truth and went out and did what he said he was going to do and he was a person of honesty and high character,” says Wallace.

“Calvin Coolidge: Our First Radio President” is available from:

Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation
P. O. Box 97
Plymouth Notch, VT 05056.

Individuals can also contact the Foundation by e-mail at info@calvin-coolidge.org or click on the link below this story.

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