commanders in chief

An ever-changing tradition

U.S. presidents and their inauguration ceremonies
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Every four years, an inaugural ceremony gives the nation a chance to celebrate a new beginning, and the president an opportunity to address the American people. Joe Biden became the 46th president when he took the oath of office on Jan. 20. One of the youngest senators when he was elected to Congress in 1972, Biden is the nation’s oldest president. Just as no two presidents are alike, neither are the ceremonies that usher them into office. Several men were sworn in after a president’s death or resignation and didn’t have an inauguration until they were elected to a full term later, if at all.

Commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

George Washington

1789-1797

The first president.

Inaugurated on April 30, 1789 and March 4, 1793. Washington wore a dark brown suit that was made in the United States for the 1789 ceremony. At 135 words, his 1793 inaugural address is easily the shortest in the history of the ceremony.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

John Adams

1797–1801

The first president to live in the White House.

Inaugurated on March 4, 1797. Oliver Ellsworth became the first chief justice of the United States to administer the oath of office to the president during the ceremony, establishing a tradition for future inaugurations.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Thomas Jefferson

1801–1809

The first president to be inaugurated in D.C.

Inaugurated on March 4, 1801, and March 4, 1805. Jefferson’s 1801 inauguration was the first time the Marine Band played at the ceremony. He walked to and from his ceremony instead of riding in a carriage.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

James Madison

1809–1817

The first president to ask Congress for a declaration of war.

Inaugurated on March 4, 1809, and March 4, 1813. The first inaugural ball was held after his 1809 ceremony. His suit for that inauguration was made of wool that was grown and processed in the United States.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

James Monroe

1817–1825

The first president to travel on a steamboat.

Inaugurated on March 4, 1817, and March 5, 1821. Monroe’s 1817 inauguration was the first to be held outdoors, which happened because the Senate and the House were feuding about which chairs to use.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

John Quincy Adams

1825–1829

The first known photo of a U.S. president is of Adams.

Inaugurated on March 4, 1825. According to his account of the ceremony, Adams took the oath on a book of law rather than a Bible. He was the first to wear long trousers during the ceremony instead of knee breeches.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Andrew Jackson

1829–1837

The first president to have served in both houses of Congress.

Inaugurated on March 4, 1829, and March 4, 1833. Jackson’s 1829 inauguration was the first of 34 held on the East Portico of the U.S. Capitol, the most popular venue in the ceremony’s history.

Commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Martin Van Buren

1837–1841

The first president who was not born a British subject.

Inaugurated on March 4, 1837. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney administered his first of seven oaths of office during Van Buren’s inauguration, which is the second most oaths administered, behind John Marshall.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

William Henry Harrison

1841

The first president to die while he was in office.

Inaugurated on March 4, 1841. Wearing no coat on a cold day, Harrison delivered the longest inaugural address in history. Doctors cited pneumonia when he died a month later, but new research points to typhoid or paratyphoid fever.

Commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

John Tyler

1841–1845

The first to become president after the death of his predecessor.

Sworn in on April 6, 1841. Tyler took his oath at Brown’s hotel in Washington two days after William Henry Harrison died. He was sworn in by William Cranch, chief judge of the U.S. Circuit Court of the District of Columbia.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

James K. Polk

1845–49

The first (and only) president to have been speaker of the House.

Inaugurated on March 4, 1845. Polk’s inauguration was the first to be covered by telegraph and the first to be shown in an illustration, which was run by the Illustrated London News. The origin of the Bible he used is unknown.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Zachary Taylor

1849–50

The first president who had not served in an elected office.

Inaugurated on March 5, 1849. Three inaugural balls were held in the evening, and Taylor attended all of them. Although there were only snow flurries during the day, it began snowing heavily during one of the inaugural balls.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Millard Fillmore

1850–53

The first (and only) president named Millard.

Sworn in on July 10, 1850. After Zachary Taylor’s death, which appeared to be from food poisoning, William Cranch, chief judge of the U.S. Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, administered the oath of office.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Franklin Pierce

1853–57

The first sitting president to seek and be denied renomination by his party.

Inaugurated on March 4, 1853. Pierce recited his entire 3,329-word speech from memory, the first president to do so. He canceled the inaugural ball and broke from tradition by affirming the oath of office instead of swearing it.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

James Buchanan

1857–61

The first (and only) president to be a bachelor.

Inaugurated on March 4, 1857. Buchanan’s inauguration was photographed, which is believed to be a first. While it snowed for most of the day, the heaviest snow fell while he gave his address.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Abraham Lincoln

1861-65

The first president to hold a patent.

Inaugurated on March 4, 1861, and March 4, 1865. During Lincoln’s 1865 inauguration, African Americans participated in the parade for the first time. The Bible that Lincoln used in 1861 was purchased by William Thomas Carroll, clerk of the Supreme Court.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Andrew Johnson

1865-69

The first president to face impeachment charges, which came after he fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. The Senate acquitted him.

Sworn in on April 15, 1865. Johnson was sworn into office the day Lincoln died. He fell short of the 1868 Democratic presidential nomination.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Ulysses S. Grant

1869–77

The first president to legally change his name. He was born Hiram Ulysses Grant.

Inaugurated on March 4, 1869, and March 4, 1873. In 1869, outgoing President Andrew Johnson stayed at the White House to sign last-minute legislation instead of attending the ceremony.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Rutherford B. Hayes

1877–81

The first president to hold the White House Easter Egg Roll.

Inaugurated on March 5, 1877. During his inaugural address, Hayes delivered what became his best known quote: “. . . He serves his party best who serves the country best.” The Bible he used was open to Psalm 118:11-13.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

James A. Garfield

1881

The first president to be elected directly from the House of Representatives.

Inaugurated on March 4, 1881. Garfield was the first president to watch the inaugural parade from a stand in front of the White House. The Bible he used was open to Proverbs 21:1.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Chester A. Arthur

1881–85

The first president to take the oath of office in his own home.

Sworn in on Sept. 20, 1881. James A. Garfield was shot on July 2, 1881, and died Sept. 19. Arthur took the oath of office on Sept. 20 with a state judge in New York, and again on Sept. 22 in Washington.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Grover Cleveland

1885–89 | 1893–97

The first president to get married at the White House.

Inaugurated on March 4, 1885, and March 4, 1893. Cleveland was elected in 1884 and 1892, making him the only president to serve nonconsecutive terms. He is considered the 22nd and 24th president.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Benjamin Harrison

1889–93

The first president to be a grandson of another (William Henry Harrison).

Inaugurated on March 4, 1889. Harrison took the oath of office under an umbrella as rain came down in sheets. The total rainfall for the day was 0.86 inches. He took the oath using a Bible provided by the Supreme Court clerk.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

William McKinley

1897–1901

The first president to ride in an automobile.

Inaugurated on March 4, 1897, and March 4, 1901. The 1897 inauguration was the first recorded in moving pictures and featured the first congressional luncheon for the incoming president.

Commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Theodore Roosevelt

1901–09

The first president to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Inaugurated on March 4, 1905. Roosevelt took the oath Sept. 14, 1901, after the assassination of William McKinley. He won reelection in 1904, becoming the first to ascend to the office after a president’s death and also win reelection.

Commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

William Howard Taft

1909–13

The first president to take and administer the oath of office.

Inaugurated on March 4, 1909. A snowstorm forced the ceremony indoors to the Senate chamber. About 6,000 workers and 500 wagons were needed to clear the parade route of 58,000 tons of snow and slush.

Commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Woodrow Wilson

1913–21

The first president to have a PhD.

Inaugurated on March 4, 1913, and March 5, 1917. Wilson canceled the inaugural ball because he felt it was inappropriate for such a serious day. He used the same Bible as when he was sworn in as governor of New Jersey, open to Psalm 119:43-46.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Warren G. Harding

1921–23

The first president to be on the cover of Time magazine.

Inaugurated on March 4, 1921. Harding rode a Packard Twin Six to and from his inauguration, the first time an automobile was in the ceremony. He took the oath on the same Bible that George Washington used.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Calvin Coolidge

1923–29

The first president to give a radio broadcast from the White House.

Inaugurated on March 4, 1925. Coolidge was sworn in on Aug. 3, 1923, after the death of Warren G. Harding. William Howard Taft administered the oath at Coolidge’s inauguration. He used a family Bible, open to John 1.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Herbert Hoover

1929–33

The first president born west of the Mississippi River.

Inaugurated on March 4, 1929. Hoover’s inauguration was the first captured by the “talking newsreel.” By the time he completed his inaugural address, Hoover was soaked with rain. He used a family Bible, open to Proverbs 29:18.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Franklin D. Roosevelt

1933-1945

The first president to nominate a woman to a Cabinet post.

Inaugurated on March 4, 1933; Jan. 20, 1937; Jan. 20, 1941; and Jan. 20, 1945. The 20th Amendment, ratified in 1933, moved the inaugural date to January to allow for quicker transitions. He is the only president to have four inaugurations.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Harry S. Truman

1945–53

The first person to be issued a Medicare card.

Inaugurated on Jan. 20, 1949. Truman took the oath of office on April 12, 1945, after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He won reelection in 1948. His inauguration was the first to be televised, and he reinstated the inaugural ball.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Dwight D. Eisenhower

1953–61

The first president of 50 states (Alaska and Hawaii were admitted during his presidency).

Inaugurated on Jan. 20, 1953, and Jan. 21, 1957. Eisenhower’s 1953 ceremony was the first time the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies hosted the luncheon.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

John F. Kennedy

1961–63

The first (and only) president to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

Inaugurated on Jan. 20, 1961. For the first time, a poet, Robert Frost, participated in the inaugural ceremony. Kennedy was the first Roman Catholic to become president. He used his mother’s family Bible, closed.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Lyndon B. Johnson

1963–69

The first president to appoint an African American (Thurgood Marshall) to the Supreme Court.

Inaugurated on Jan. 20, 1965. Johnson was sworn in on Nov. 22, 1963, after Kennedy was killed. He was the first president to ride to and from his inaugural ceremony in a bulletproof limousine.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Richard M. Nixon

1969–74

The first (and only) president to resign from office and be pardoned by another president.

Inaugurated on Jan. 20, 1969, and Jan. 20, 1973. Nixon’s 1969 inauguration included an interfaith prayer service that was open to the public.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Gerald R. Ford

1974–77

The first (and only) unelected vice president to become president.

Sworn in on Aug. 9, 1974. Ford took the oath of office in the East Room of the White House after Richard M. Nixon resigned as he faced impeachment hearings for his role in the Watergate scandal.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Jimmy Carter

1977–81

The first president born in a hospital.

Inaugurated on Jan. 20, 1977. Carter was the first president to walk in the parade after the inaugural ceremony. His was the last of the 34 inaugurations held at the East Portico of the Capitol. He used a family Bible, open to Micah 6:8, and the Bible used by George Washington.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Ronald Reagan

1981–89

The first president to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Inaugurated on Jan. 20, 1981, and Jan. 21, 1985. Reagan’s 1981 inauguration was the warmest on record at 55 degrees. His 1985 inauguration was the coldest on record at 7 degrees.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

George H.W. Bush

1989–93

The first president to have served as director of the CIA.

Inaugurated on Jan. 20, 1989. On the 200th anniversary of the presidency, George H.W. Bush took the oath of office on the same Bible used by George Washington in 1789. He also used a family Bible.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Bill Clinton

1993–2001

The first president to send an email.

Inaugurated on Jan. 20, 1993, and Jan. 20, 1997. Clinton’s 1997 inaugural ceremony was the first to be broadcast live on the Internet. The 1997 ceremony also marked the last presidential inauguration of the 20th century.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

George W. Bush

2001–09

The first president to have an MBA.

Inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2001, and Jan. 20, 2005. After 9/11, security was ramped up at the 2005 ceremony. A 100-block zone was closed to traffic as soldiers, sharpshooters, helicopters, fighter jets and 13,000 police patrolled the area.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Barack Obama

2009–2017

The first African American president.

Inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2009, and Jan. 21, 2013. Obama’s 2009 inauguration had the highest attendance ever. Because Jan. 20 fell on a Sunday in 2012, Obama took the oath in private on that day and retook it at a public ceremony on the 21st.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Donald Trump

2017-2021

The first president to have never performed public service.

Inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2017. An enthusiastic crowd celebrated on the Mall as Trump delivered his inaugural address, but demonstrations in downtown Washington became unruly as protesters clashed with Trump supporters.

commanders in chief (MICHAEL HOEWELER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Joe Biden

The first president to be inaugurated in the midst of a pandemic.

Inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2021. Biden took the oath of office using his family Bible. With few onlookers due to the coronavirus pandemic and heightened security, Biden and the first lady walked an abbreviated parade route to the White House that was followed by a virtual “Parade Across America.”

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