top of page
  • Writer's pictureMOIRA GARRY '18

The History of Inaugurations

The US Capitol Building decorated for the inauguration of Donald Trump

This past year was a presidential election year, which means that someone new was chosen to serve as Commander-in-Chief for the next four years. In November, Donald J. Trump was elected as our nation's 45th president. After eight years of President Obama in office, the peaceful transfer of power was shown on TV and livestreamed online from Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. during the 58th presidential inauguration on January 20. Since 1789, the inauguration, as well as each administration, has had many historic moments:

  1. George Washington was sworn in as the first president on April 30, 1789 in New York City. Robert R. Livingston administered the oath on a second floor balcony of Federal Hall while a crowd assembled in the streets to witness this historic event.

  2. Sponsors held an inaugural ball in New York City on May 7, 1789 for George Washington. The tradition of the Ball did not begin until James Madison became the president in 1809 where First Lady Dolley Madison hosted the gala at Long’s Hotel. The Inaugural Ball turned into a highlight of Washington society and now many celebrities are invited to attend them.

  3. The inauguration was originally held on March 4 because that is when the session of Congress ended. The date was moved to Jan 20 in 1933 by an act of congress to cut down the “lame duck” time after election day. Along with the inauguration, the start of the Congressional lawmakers’ terms moved from March 4 to January 4.

  4. All but six presidents took the presidential oath in Washington, D.C. The exceptions were Chester A. Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and Lyndon B. Johnson who all had to take the oath after the previous president had died, and as vice president, they were next in succession. The other two exceptions were George Washington and John Adams.

  5. William Howard Taft is the only person who has administered and received the presidential oath. President Taft took the oath of office in 1909 and administered the oath to Herbert Hoover in 1929 as Chief Justice Taft.

  6. Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration in 1985 was the coldest on record with a temperature of 7° F. President Reagan was sworn in in the Capitol Rotunda and the cold forced him to cancel the inaugural parade.

  7. Ronald Reagan also has the record for the warmest inauguration in 1981. For President Reagan’s first inauguration, the temperature was 55° on January 20.

  8. William Henry Harrison holds the record for the longest inaugural address that was around 100 minutes but also the shortest presidency which was 31 days. President Harrison delivered his address in a freezing rainstorm without an overcoat, hat or gloves, and he was the first president to die in office which was a month later from pneumonia.

  9. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson was the first president to be sworn in in Washington, D.C. Despite being the third president, Jefferson was the first to be sworn in in D.C. because it had not become the official capital until July 11, 1800 and George Washington and John Adams were both sworn in before that, either in New York or Philadelphia.

  10. Donald Trump is actually only the 44th person to serve as President of the United States. Although President Trump is the 45th president, Grover Cleveland served two nonconsecutive terms as president and is considered both the 22nd and the 24th President of the United States.

Donald J. Trump being inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States

The inauguration has changed significantly since the country was first founded. SUA history teacher Ms. Lundstedt says, “The inauguration used to be an administrative thing, but then when it was televised, more people began to watch and they also began to watch all parts of it.” One of the most important inauguration ceremonies was John F. Kennedy’s in 1961. “Since the inauguration was televised instead of only on the radio, it made it a bigger deal,” Ms. Lundstedt continues. “He was young and a popular candidate who was optimistic in his inaugural address.” In the last 40 years the inauguration has become more of a cultural event, where celebrities are invited and there are hundreds of Inaugural Balls held around the city.

bottom of page