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Inaugural 'Firsts' Make Interesting Tales
By Historian Kim Holien and Lt. Cmdr. Pamela Warnken
Joint Task Force - Armed Forces Inaugural Committee
WASHINGTON – In 2001, President George W. Bush became the first American president of the new millennium, but he soon will be sworn in as not only the first two-term president of the 21st century, but as the first wartime president of this century.

American presidential inaugurations first started with President George Washington, who took the oath April 30, 1789, in New York City. He was also the first president to have a second inaugural ceremony, having won re-election in 1792. Though it wasn't a formal parade, Revolutionary War veterans marched along with Washington as he made his way to NYC's Federal Hall for the oath.

The groundwork for a real inaugural parade came in 1801 when Washington Navy Yard workers spontaneously played music upon seeing President Thomas Jefferson returning home on horseback from his second swearing-in.

It was in 1809 that the stylish Dolley Madison spearheaded the first Inaugural Ball, beginning a wildly popular tradition. President Martin Van Buren's 1837 inauguration had the distinction of making him the first president to be born under the U.S. flag.

In 1817, President James Monroe was the first to have an outdoor inaugural ceremony. He was also the last of the Revolutionary War veterans to hold office.

By 1849, Zachary Taylor had the first temporary inaugural dance pavilion at Judiciary Square. His election was the first in which the entire country voted on the same day.

Abraham Lincoln slipped into Washington in 1861 after three assassination attempts between Springfield, Ill. and Washington. Political turmoil was rampant During the inaugural parade, soldiers surrounded his carriage and rifle squads were posted on rooftops along the route to protect the president. At this onset of the Civil War, the mood was somber.

Weather is a major concern in inaugurations. For President Ulysses S. Grant's in 1873 temperatures were so cold that the musicians' instrument keys froze. Many West Point cadets and Naval Academy midshipmen who

 

marched in the parade lost consciousness and suffered frostbite.

President Woodrow Wilson was the last to ride to his inauguration in a horse and carriage. Life was getting faster even back then. It was Warren G. Harding who first used an automobile to travel to the oath ceremony, it was a Pierce-Arrow touring car and the year was 1920.

Franklin Roosevelt’s four inaugurals set many records. His first in 1933 was the last held in the month of March. After that, Congress changed the ceremony to January. Roosevelt’s second was in 1937, but his next in 1941 was the only time a third inaugural was held in American history. Chief Justice Hughes, administered the oath of office, reportedly saying to the president, “This is becoming monotonous Franklin.” FDR’s last inauguration in January of 1945 was held on the lower south portico of the White House due to wartime conditions.

President Harry Truman, in 1949, was the first to lead an inaugural parade. In 1953 cowboy Monty Montana, riding on horseback, rode up to the White House Reviewing Platform and lassoed President Dwight D. Eisenhower, thus prompting more stringent security measures by the Secret Service. Ike’s was the longest inaugural parade, running five hours as compared to today’s standard two hours.

President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural parade in 1961 took place despite a heavy snow storm the day before. It came off thanks to thousands of military personnel who were up all night clearing the snow.

President Jimmy Carter astounded the nation by walking down Pennsylvania Avenue with his family during his 1977 inaugural parade. This was also the first time special provisions were made for the physically disabled to watch the parade.

In 1981 President Ronald Reagan was the first to hold his inaugural on the west side, or Mall side of the Capitol. In 1985, due to below-zero wind chills, he was sworn in inside the Capitol dome with a capacity of only 1,000 guests meaning 25,000 ticket-holders could not attend. No parade was held.

President Bill Clinton and family arrived in Washington, D.C., in 1993 from Monticello, recreating President Thomas Jefferson’s route to Washington.

Each inauguration has touches that show the chosen inaugural theme of the elected president. As Inauguration 2005 unfolds, President George W. Bush has made it clear by his choice of the theme “Celebrating Freedom, Honoring Services,” that tribute is due for members of the Armed Forces as well as those who toil as first responders and public servants across the nation…and beyond.


Last Updated:
11/30/2005, Eastern Standard Time
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