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Inauguration Day

Notable firsts in inauguration history

Chau Tu Jan 18, 2013

Inauguration Day is rife with traditions and rituals, but did you know that the House of Representatives wasn’t allowed to join with the Senate in making arrangements for the inauguration until 1901? Or that women hadn’t taken part in the inaugural parade until 1917?

The Library of Congress has curated a list of notable events at inaugurals of the past — here are some of our favorites:

March 4, 1793 — George Washington

  • Shortest inaugural address (135 words).

March 4, 1825 — John Q. Adams

  • First president sworn in wearing long trousers. (Washington Post, 3/4/1933)

March 4, 1837 — Martin Van Buren

  • First time that outgoing and incoming presidents (Jackson and Van Buren) rode together in a carriage to the Capitol for the inaugural. (Jeffries, “In and Out of the White House,” p. 103; Washington Post, 1/20/1949)
  • First use of floats in an inaugural parade. (Fox, Washington, D.C.: The Nation’s Capitol)

March 4, 1841 — William H. Harrison

  • Longest inaugural address (10,000 words).

March 4, 1845 — James Polk

  • First known newspaper illustration of a presidential inauguration. (The Illustrated London News)

March 4, 1865 — Abraham Lincoln

  • First time that African Americans participated in the inaugural parade.

September 20, 1881, and September 22, 1881 — Chester A. Arthur

  • Pronounced the words “So help me, God” after taking the oath; other presidents have followed this example.

March 4, 1897 — William McKinley

  • First inaugural recorded by movie camera.

March 4, 1901 — William McKinley

  • First time that the House of Representatives was allowed to join with the Senate in making arrangements for the inaugural.

March 4, 1917, and March 5, 1917 — Woodrow Wilson

  • First time that women participated in the inaugural parade.

March 4, 1921 — Warren G. Harding

  • First president to ride to and from his inaugural in an automobile.

March 4, 1925 — Calvin Coolidge

  • First inaugural to be broadcast nationally by radio.

January 20, 1949 — Harry S. Truman

  • First inauguration to be televised.

January 20, 1961 — John F. Kennedy

  • First time that a Speaker of the House administered the oath of office to the vice president. (Previously the oath had been given by either the President pro tempore of the Senate, the ex-Vice President, or a United States Senator.) (Roll Call, 1/18/1961)
  • First time a poet, Robert Frost, participated in the official ceremonies at the Capitol.
  • First time that both parents of the president-elect attended their son’s inauguration. (Washington Daily News, 1/21/1961)
  • Last president to wear traditional stovepipe hat to the inauguration.

January 20, 1977 — Jimmy Carter

  • Folding chairs instead of wooden benches were used on the East Plaza.

January 20, 1997 — William J. Clinton

  • First time that the ceremony was broadcast live on the Internet.
  • First inaugural that fell on the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday.

See the entire list from the Library of Congress here.

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