From Washington to Trump: An Inaugural History Lesson

Washington, D.C.—Friday, January 20, 2017 will go down in history as the day that 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, took the Presidential oath of office.  Inauguration day comes along every four years in America, but how much do every day citizens really know about the tradition?  Below are some facts and pictures of historical inaugural moments of the past.

The west terrace of the Capitol building, where inaugural ceremonies now take place.

The west terrace of the Capitol building, where inaugural ceremonies now take place.

  • Inauguration day marks the beginning of each President’s four-year term, whether it be their first or second in office.
  • The 20th Amendment to the Constitution set the inaugural date to be January 20th in 1933. Prior to that amendment the date was always March 4th.  Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first man to take the oath on January 20th in 1937.
  • The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is usually who administers the Oath of Office and they do so at exactly noon eastern time on that day.
warren-harding-on-way-to-inauguration-with-woodrow-wilson-3-4-21

Warren G. Harding rides to his inauguration in 1921 with outgoing President Woodrow Wilson.

  • The Oath of Office is located in Article 2 Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution and states as follows, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” The Oath does not officially end with the phrase, “so help me God”, however, first President George Washington adlibbed the line and it has been included by every President ever since.
  • Thomas Jefferson was the first President to be inaugurated in Washington, D.C. in 1801 after it had become the capital city of the United States. The oath has always taken place in Washington, D.C. unless it is unplanned due to the death of a President.
Platform being constructed for Woodrow Wilson inauguration in 1913.

Platform being constructed for Woodrow Wilson inauguration in 1913.

  • The inauguration in 1829 of Andrew Jackson through the inauguration in 1977 of Jimmy Carter were all held on the United States Capitol’s east portico facing the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court building. In 1981 with the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, the ceremony began taking place on the Capitol’s west terrace in front of the National Mall.  However, the ceremonies for William Howard Taft in 1909 and Ronald Reagan in 1985 were both held inside the Capitol building because of cold, wintry weather.  During the ceremony of 1909, Washington, D.C. received 10 inches of snowfall.
Inauguration day outside of the Capitol building.

Inauguration day outside of the Capitol building.

  • The inauguration ceremony for James Monroe in 1817 took place on March 4th in front of the old brick Capitol building that is currently the Supreme Court building. This was due to the War of 1812.  Due to World War 2, the 1945 ceremony for Franklin D. Roosevelt took place on the south portico of the White House.
  • Initially, inauguration ceremonies were very short with only the Presidential Oath of Office taking place. Other traditions have now been added to the day to make it more of a celebration.  In 1801, the first parade was held as part of the proceedings for Thomas Jefferson.  In 1809, James Madison’s celebration included the first inaugural ball.
Inaugural parade marching down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Inaugural parade marching down Pennsylvania Avenue.

  • 1st inauguration ceremony to be photographed was James Buchanan’s in 1857
  • 1st inauguration ceremony to be recorded by motion picture camera was William McKinley’s in 1897
  • 1st inauguration ceremony to be broadcast on live radio was Calvin Coolidge’s in 1925
Woodrow Wilson travels to his own inauguration ceremony.

Woodrow Wilson travels to his own inauguration ceremony.

  • 1st inauguration ceremony to be recorded for newsreel was Herbert Hoover’s in 1929
  • 1st inauguration ceremony to be broadcast on live television was Harry Truman’s in 1949, of which approximately 10 million people watched.
  • 1st inauguration ceremony to be broadcast live on the internet was Bill Clinton’s in 1997
Bill Clinton taking Oath of Office January 20, 1993

Bill Clinton taking Oath of Office January 20, 1993

  • To date, the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama has been the most attended by the public. With approximately 1.8 million people in attendance, it is also the largest event attendance in the history of Washington, D.C.
  • Barack Obama’s 2009 ceremony has also been the most expensive to date with a price tag of $170 million.
  • Ronald Reagan experienced both the warmest and coldest inauguration days ever. In 1981, the temperature reached 55 degrees at the moment he took the oath and in 1985 it was only 7 degrees.
President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush bow their heads in prayer during an inaugural prayer in 1981.

President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush bow their heads in prayer during an inaugural prayer in 1981.

  • Cold, uncomfortable weather is not uncommon on inauguration day. On March 4, 1841, William Henry Harrison took the Oath of Office and delivered the longest inaugural speech on record.  Speaking for one hour and forty-five minutes, Harrison did so without a coat on the cold and rainy day.  He then became the President to serve the shortest term on record (31 days) and the first to die in office, when he succumbed to pneumonia contracted on that day.
  • William Taft was the only man to both take the Presidential Oath of Office and to administer it. In 1909, he was sworn in as the President of the United States.  Then in 1929, he administered the Oath to Herbert Hoover when he was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • The youngest man inaugurated as President was Theodore Roosevelt in 1901 at the age of 42. The oldest to this point had been Ronald Reagan in 1981 at the age of 69.  Now, however, Donald Trump will take the place as the oldest man to take the oath at the age of 70.
Theodore Roosevelt inauguration ceremony, 1905

Theodore Roosevelt inauguration ceremony, 1905

  • Even though these celebrations are Presidential, they can still get pretty wild. It is said that the inaugural party got so out of hand that the police had to be called.
  • In 1974, Gerald Ford became the first man to become President without ever being elected. In 1973, Richard Nixon’s Vice President, Spiro Agnew resigned from his position.  At that time, Nixon nominated Ford to become his second in command.  Shortly thereafter, Nixon himself resigned, leaving Ford to take over his position as President of the United States, without ever having been elected.
George Bush and wife Laura walk in inaugural parade in 2005.

George Bush and wife Laura walk in inaugural parade in 2005.

 

A few famous quotes from past inaugural Presidential speeches:

  • “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933
  • “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” John F. Kennedy, 1961
Bush family viewing stand at inaugural parade in 2005.

Bush family viewing stand at inaugural parade in 2005.

  • “Our long national nightmare is over.” Gerald Ford, 1974 (Referring to the Watergate scandal)
  • “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Ronald Reagan, 1981