Firsts and facts about presidential inaugurations
by Christine Frantz and Beth Rowen
Notable Inaugural Events
Thomas Jefferson was the only president to walk to and from his inaugural. He was also the first to be inaugurated at the Capitol. (1801)
The first inaugural ball was held for James Madison. (1809)
John Quincy Adams was the first president sworn in wearing long trousers. (1825)
The first inauguration to be photographed was James Buchanan's. (1857)
Abraham Lincoln was the first to include African-Americans in his parade. (1865)
James Garfield's mother was the first to attend her son's inauguration. (1881)
William McKinley's inauguration was the first ceremony to be recorded by a motion picture camera. (1897)
William Taft's wife was the first one to accompany her husband in the procession from the Capitol to the White House. (1909)
Women were included for the first time in Woodrow Wilson's second inaugural parade. (1917)
Warren G. Harding was the first president to ride to and from his inaugural in an automobile. (1921)
Calvin Coolidge's oath in 1925 was administered by Chief Justice (and ex-president) William Taft. It was also the first inaugural address broadcast on the radio. Coolidge was sworn in by his father, a notary public, when he assumed the presidency in 1923 after Warren Harding's death. It was the first time a president was sworn in by his father.
Harry Truman's was the first to be televised. (1949)
John Kennedy's inauguration had Robert Frost as the first poet to participate in the official ceremony. (1961) The only other President to feature poets was Bill Clinton. Maya Angelou read at his 1993 inaugural, and Miller Williams read at his second, in 1997. (1961)
Lyndon Johnson was the first (and so far) only president to be sworn in by a woman, U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes. (1963)
Jimmy Carter's inaugural parade featured solar heat for the reviewing stand and handicap-accessible viewing. (1977)
Ronald Reagan's second inaugural had to compete with Super Bowl Sunday. (1985)
The first ceremony broadcast on the Internet was Bill Clinton's second inauguration. (1997)
On the second day of his presidency, Barack Obama was sworn in a second time by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. because, following Roberts's lead, Obama improperly recited the oath. He said, "I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully." The word "faithfully" belongs between "will" and "execute." (2009)
All but six presidents took the presidential oath in Washington, D.C.The exceptions were:
- George Washington—1789, New York City; 1793, Philadelphia
- John Adams—1797, Philadelphia
- Chester Alan Arthur—1881, New York City
- Theodore Roosevelt—1901, Buffalo
- Calvin Coolidge—1923, Plymouth, Vt.
- Lyndon Baines Johnson—1963, Dallas
When Washington and Adams were sworn in, the U.S. capital had not yet been transferred from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. (the latter became the seat of government beginning Dec. 1, 1800). Arthur, T. Roosevelt, Coolidge, and L. B. Johnson had all been vice-presidents who assumed the presidency upon the deaths of their predecessors, and none was in Washington, D.C., when the oath of office was administered.
Except for Washington's first inaugural, when he was sworn in on April 30, 1789, all presidents until 1937 were inaugurated in March in an effort to avoid bad weather. The 20th Amendment to the Constitution (passed in 1933) changed the inaugural date to January 20. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Second Inauguration was the first to have been held on that date.
Oaths and Bibles
The oath is taken with a hand upon a Bible, opened to a passage of the president-elect's choice. Each president has chosen a different passage. Theodore Roosevelt's 1901 oath was the only one not sworn in on a Bible.
Between 1789 and 1993, 35 inaugurations enjoyed clear weather. During ten inaugurations it rained, and seven had snow. The warmest inauguration was Ronald Reagan's first (Jan. 20, 1981). It was 55°. The coldest was Reagan's second (Jan. 21, 1985). It was 7°.
Only four retiring presidents have not attended the inaugurations of their successors. Those who were absent:
- John Adams missed Thomas Jefferson's inaugural.
- John Quincy Adams was not present at Andrew Jackson's.
- Andrew Johnson was not at Ulysses Grant's ceremony.
- Richard Nixon was not present at Gerald Ford's inaugural.
Sources: The Architect of the Capitol; Facts About the Presidents, Joseph Nathan Kane.