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Inauguration Trivia: Fascinating Firsts

Washington’s inauguration, from a painting by Ramon de Elorriaga, circa 1899.

On Monday, January 21, 2013, we will celebrate the 57th Inauguration for the President of the United States of America. You will remember that President Obama’s inauguration in 2009 marked the first swearing-in of an African American to lead our country. You also may recall some of the details about the very first inauguration on April 30, 1789, when George Washington was sworn in as president of our new nation. But have you ever wondered about some of the other “firsts” related to this historic event? We have gathered together some bits of information about presidential inaugurations that we hope will enlighten and entertain.

1801 – Thomas Jefferson was the first to take the oath of office in the new capital city, Washington, D.C. His inaugural speech also was the first reprinted in a newspaper.

1805 – Jefferson’s second inauguration saw the first inaugural parade, when a procession made up of members of Congress and citizens escorted President Jefferson from the Capitol to the White House, accompanied by military music performed by the Marine Band. The Marine Band has played at every inauguration since then.

John Quincy Adams in 1843, wearing long pants

1809 – James and Dolley Madison attended the first inaugural ball held on the same day as the inauguration itself.

1825 – John Quincy Adams was the first president to take his oath in long pants. Previous presidents wore breeches (see the image of Washington above).

1829 – Andrew Jackson was the first president to be inaugurated on the steps of the Capitol building, specifically on the East Portico facing the Library of Congress and Supreme Court. In 1981, Ronald Reagan became the first President inaugurated on the West Terrace, facing the National Mall.

1841 – William Henry Harrison was the first to arrive by train for his inauguration ceremony in Washington. He also delivered the longest inaugural speech to date (8,445 words) in the midst of a snowstorm. He died of pneumonia one month later, thought to have been brought on by the prolonged exposure (though there is debate over this point). This also means that his was the shortest presidency ever.

1845 – James K. Polk’s inauguration was the first covered by telegraph and the first featured in a newspaper illustration, which appeared in the Illustrated London News.

1865 – Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration marked the first time that African Americans officially participated in the ceremonies, with African American soldiers taking part in the march.

Photo of African American troops marching at Lincoln's 1865 inauguration
African American troops marching at Lincoln’s 1865 inauguration.

1897 – William McKinley’s inauguration in 1897 was the first captured by a motion picture camera. You can view the video online, courtesy of the National Archives.

1921 – Warren G. Harding and the presidential party rode in automobiles, rather than carriages, to the Capitol for his inauguration ceremony.

1925 – Calvin Coolidge’s inaugural address was the first to be broadcast by radio. Despite his nickname “Silent Cal,” Coolidge made great use of the new medium and was the first president to give a radio address on February 22, 1924 (while he was serving as president following the death of Harding).

Photo of JFK's inauguration
Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961

1937 – Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the first president to be inaugurated on January 20th. The 20th Amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified in 1933, established this as the official inaugural date. The date is only changed if January 20th falls on a Sunday, as it does this year.

1949 – Harry Truman’s inauguration was the first to be televised. Parts of the film footage are available from the C-SPAN Video Library.

1961 – The inauguration of John F. Kennedy was the first to appear on color television. You can view his inaugural address on the website of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

1997 – Bill Clinton’s second inauguration was the first to be broadcast live on the Internet. You can view the ceremonies online on the website of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Resources consulted include:

Boller, Paul F. Presidential Inaugurations. New York: Harcourt, 2001.

Facts, Firsts and Precedents. The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies website, accessed 14 January 2013.

“I Do Solemnly Swear…”: Presidential Inaugurations. American Memory on the Library of Congress website, accessed 15 January 2013.

Inauguration Quiz. The National Archives and Records Administration website, accessed 15 January 2013.

The Campaign Trail: Inaugurations. The National Museum of American History website, accessed 14 January 2013.

The Inaugural Addresses of the American Presidents, from Washington to Kennedy. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1961.

Wolly, Brian. Inaugural Firsts. The Smithsonian website, accessed 14 January 2013.

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