A Look at Inauguration Day Through the Years: Inaugural Photographs and Facts

Photos for this blog post were collated and scanned with the assistance of Michael Bloomfield.

With regard to the inauguration of a president, the United States Constitution only stipulates the date and time of the inauguration, as well as the words of the Presidential Oath of Office. Given this lack of detail, traditions surrounding the U.S. Presidential Inauguration have grown and evolved since Washington’s 1789 inauguration. In a look back at past inaugural ceremonies, the NARA Still Picture unit presents photographs and facts covering Inauguration Day celebrations and traditions throughout the years.

George Washington is the only president to be inaugurated in two different cities. The first United States Presidential Inauguration occurred on April 30, 1789, when Washington took the oath of office on the Balcony of Federal Hall in New York City. Washington’s second inauguration took place in the Senate Chamber of Congress Hall in Philadelphia on March 4, 1793.

Edit note: George Washington is the only elected president to be inaugurated in two different cities. Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and Lyndon Johnson were each inaugurated in different cities after taking over office due to a President’s death.

148-GW-197: The Inauguration of George Washington as President. Federal Hall, New York City, April, 1789. From the paining by Alonzo Chappel.

The Residence Act of 1790 called for the construction of a permanent capital city for the United States of America along the banks of the Potomac River. Ten years later the United States Government officially moved from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. and in 1801, Thomas Jefferson became the first president to be inaugurated in Washington, D.C. Below is a photo of Abraham Lincoln’s first inauguration, which is the earliest photograph of an inauguration ceremony that the NARA Still Picture Unit holds.

111-BA-1444: Lincoln’s 1st Inauguration
DM-Reece-M95: Lincoln’s 2nd Inauguration
64-M-164: Lincoln’s 2nd Inauguration

Traditionally, retired/retiring presidents have attended the inaugurations of their successors. However, Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant had a mutual dislike for each other. As a result, Johnson did not attend Grant’s inauguration ceremony.

111-BA-1444: Ulysses S. Grant’s 1st Inauguration

Although Ford’s Model T was introduced in 1908, president-elects continued to ride to the inauguration ceremony in the traditional horse and carriage. Warren G. Harding broke this tradition in 1921 when he became the first president to ride to and from his inaugural ceremony in an automobile.

111-SC-73497: Taken 3/4/1921. President Warren G. Harding delivering his inaugural address.

Administering the oath of office is typically done by the Chief Justice of the United States, which is a tradition that arose out of Washington’s second inauguration. William H. Taft, who served as Chief Justice after his presidency, is the only former president to take and administer the Presidential oath office. Taft administered the oath to Calvin Coolidge in 1925 and again in 1929 to Herbert Hoover.

80-HAS-3A-1: President Coolidge delivering address. Taken 3/4/1925
111-SC-91405: Mr. Hoover leaving the White House for the Capitol accompanied by President Coolidge. Senator Moses (left) and Representative Snell are in the front seats. Taken 3/4/1929.
111-SC-91414: President Hoover delivering his inaugural address. March 4, 1929.

Prior to George Washington’s second inauguration, the Continental Congress established March 4th as the official inauguration date. March 4th remained the official inauguration date until the enactment of the 20th Amendment in 1933, which moved the date of inauguration from March to “noon on the 20th day of January.”  Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second inauguration in 1937 was the first inauguration ceremony to occur on January 20th.

127-PR-FDR-528286: Inaugural Parade, March 4, 1933
208-N-303443: Standing in a driving rain, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt takes the oath of office on January 20, 1937.
208-PU-171C-13: 1941, Roosevelt’s 3rd Inauguration
208-PU-171C-21: Scene from FDR’s 1945 Inauguration

President Harry Truman’s 1949 inauguration was the first inauguration to be televised.

208-PU-202D-11:Vice President Harry S. Truman is sworn in as President of the United States by Chief Justice Harlan Stone in the White House at 7:09 PM on April 12, 1945, just hours following the sudden death of President Roosevelt.
80-G-706749: The inauguration ceremony of President Harry S. Truman and Vice President Alben W. Barkley at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Franklin D. Roosevelt served three full presidential terms and was elected to a fourth term. After his death, the 22nd Amendment was passed by Congress, which limited the number of terms a president can serve. Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first president to be inaugurated under the new term limits.

79-AR-1839-1-A: Scene from Eisenhower’s Inauguration.
80-G-477632: Mr. Dwight D. Eisenhower is sworn in as President of the U.S. to succeed President Harry S. Truman by Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson.
79-AR-1839-1-R: Scene from Eisenhower’s Inaugural parade.

In 1961, John F. Kennedy became the first and only Roman Catholic to be sworn in as president.

79-AR-6280-A: John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Inauguration
79-AR-6280-J: Kennedy’s Inauguration Parade

The role of the First Lady during the inauguration ceremonies has evolved throughout the years. In 1809, Dolley Madison became the first First Lady to attend an inauguration. It wasn’t until 1965, when Lady Bird Johnson held the family Bible during the presidential oath of office, that a First Lady was given an active role in the inaugural ceremony.

551-PRES-1-1: Lyndon B. Johnson’s Inaugural Parade

There are no guidelines as to where an inauguration takes place, including whether it occurs indoors or outside. Luckily, between 1789 and 1993, 35 inaugurations have been able to enjoy clear weather. However, Ronald Reagan’s first and second inauguration both hold records related to the weather. His first inauguration, which occurred on Jan. 20, 1981, holds the record for being the warmest inauguration day at 55°.  His second inauguration, January 21, 1985,  is the coldest on record at 7°.

330-CFD-DN-SC-83-02723: Ronald Reagan’s Inauguration

Bill Clinton’s second inauguration was the first to be live-streamed on the Internet.

330-CFD-DF-SD-02-00807: Bill Clinton’s 1st Inauguration

8 thoughts on “A Look at Inauguration Day Through the Years: Inaugural Photographs and Facts

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  2. It was brought to our attention that Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge and Lyndon Johnson were each inaugurated in two different cities.

    1. Hi Bobbi,

      George Washington is the only elected president to be inaugurated in two different cities. Roosevelt, Coolidge, and Johnson were inaugurated in different cities after taking over office due to a President’s death. I will make an edit note on the post. Thanks!

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