Faces

From The Archives: Inaugural Firsts, Ball Gowns And JFK

As we prepare for President Obama's second inauguration on Monday, we've been looking back through our coverage of inaugurations past. (And it's reminded us that a lot has changed, even from just four years ago.) Along the way, we ran across a few memorable features that we thought worth revisiting.

Inaugural Firsts

  • Hide caption
    April 30, 1789: George Washington was inaugurated in New York City as the first U.S. president. He set various precedents, including the use of a Bible for the oath, the use of the phrase "so help me God," and the tradition of an inaugural address. During his second inauguration, in Philadelphia on March 4, 1793, Washington gave the shortest address in history, consisting of a mere 135 words.
    Courtesy of Library of Congress
  • Hide caption
    March 4, 1801: Thomas Jefferson was the first president to be inaugurated in Washington, D.C. His horseback ride from the Capitol to the president's house after his second inauguration set the example for future inaugural parades.
    Courtesy of Library of Congress
  • Hide caption
    March 4, 1841: William H. Harrison, the first president to arrive in Washington by train, delivered the longest inaugural address in history. He delivered a 90-minute speech in a snowstorm. The 68-year-old died from pneumonia about a month later.
    Courtesy of Library of Congress
  • Hide caption
    Following Harrison's death on April 4, 1841, John Tyler was the first vice president to assume the presidency by succession.
    Courtesy of Library of Congress
  • Hide caption
    March 4, 1845: James Polk's inauguration was the first to be covered by telegraph.
    Courtesy of Library of Congress
  • Hide caption
    Polk's was also the first known inauguration to be depicted by newspaper illustration.
    Courtesy of Library of Congress
  • Hide caption
    March 4, 1857: James Buchanan's inauguration was the first known to be photographed.
    Courtesy of Library of Congress
  • Hide caption
    March 4, 1865: African-Americans were allowed to participate for the first time during Abraham Lincoln's second inauguration parade.
    Courtesy Library of Congress
  • Hide caption
    March 3, 1877: Rutherford B. Hayes was the first president to take the oath of office at the White House.
    Courtesy of Library of Congress
  • Hide caption
    March 4, 1897: William McKinley's inauguration was the first to be captured by a movie camera.
    Courtesy of Library of Congress
  • Hide caption
    March 5, 1909: After William Howard Taft's inauguration, the first lady accompanied the president in the inaugural procession for the first time.
    Courtesy of Library of Congress
  • Hide caption
    March 5, 1917: Women participated in the inaugural parade for the first time, after Woodrow Wilson's second inauguration.
    Courtesy of Library of Congress
  • Hide caption
    March 4, 1925: Calvin Coolidge's inauguration was the first to be broadcast nationally by radio.
    Courtesy of Library of Congress
  • Hide caption
    March 4, 1929: Herbert Hoover's inauguration was the first to be recorded by a talking newsreel.
    Courtesy of Library of Congress
  • Hide caption
    Franklin D. Roosevelt's inauguration in 1937 was the first to take place on Jan. 20. First inaugurated in 1933 and serving four terms through 1945, Roosevelt was the only U.S. president to serve more than two terms.
    Courtesy of Library of Congress
  • Hide caption
    Jan. 20, 1949: Harry S. Truman's inauguration was the first to be televised.
    Courtesy of Library of Congress
  • Hide caption
    Jan. 20, 1961: John F. Kennedy's inauguration had many firsts: a poet (Robert Frost) participated in the ceremonies, a Catholic Bible was used for the oath, and the parade was televised in color.
    Courtesy of Library of Congress
  • Hide caption
    Following Kennedy's assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, Lyndon B. Johnson was the first president to be sworn in on an airplane. And it was the first time in history that the oath of office was administered by a woman, U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes.
    Courtesy of Library of Congress
  • Hide caption
    Following the resignation of Richard Nixon on Aug. 9, 1974, Gerald Ford, who had been appointed vice president, became the first U.S. president never to have won a national election.
    Courtesy of Library of Congress
  • Hide caption
    Jan. 20, 1977: Jimmy Carter was the first president to walk from the Capitol to the White House with his family after his inauguration.
    Courtesy of Library of Congress
  • Hide caption
    Jan. 20, 1997: Bill Clinton's second inauguration was the first to be broadcast live over the Internet.
    Courtesy of Library of Congress
  • Hide caption
    Jan. 20, 2009: Barack Obama is sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts as the 44th president and the first African-American to be elected to the office.
    Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

1 of 22

View slideshow i

Four years ago, NPR's Becky Lettenberger put together a look at history-making moments from George Washington's inauguration to Barack Obama's. As you take a scroll through time, make sure to watch out for a photo from the first presidential inauguration known to have been photographed — James Buchanan's in 1857.

Inaugural Seconds

President Obama dances with first lady Michelle Obama on the night of his first inauguration, Jan. 20, 2009, in Washington. Charles Dharapak/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Charles Dharapak/AP

After President Obama was re-elected last November, NPR's Linton Weeks asked: Do we really need a second inauguration? "Obama's first inauguration in 2009 was historic and symbolic and arguably a meeting-up point for a lost nation. Now, four years later, we are still trying to get the danged compass to work. Do we really have time — and resources — to party?" he wrote. His story examines the pros and cons of ditching the pomp.

First Ladies: Dancing Through History

The inaugural ensemble of Grover Cleveland's wife, Frances, a fashion icon during the late 1800s who was considered the Jackie Kennedy of her day. Hugh Talman/Courtesy of National Museum of American History hide caption

itoggle caption Hugh Talman/Courtesy of National Museum of American History

If your favorite part of Inauguration Day is the glitz of the balls, NPR's Susan Stamberg has the story for you. She visited the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History last year to view an exhibit of first ladies' gowns. Don't miss her favorite: "a simple spill of slate blue silk crepe" worn by a first lady rarely considered stylish. (Hint: That first lady later served as a delegate to the United Nations.)

JFK At 50

President John F. Kennedy delivers his inaugural address after taking the oath of office on Jan. 20, 1961. AP hide caption

itoggle caption AP

2011 marked the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's inauguration, "a day that would change the lives of many young Americans," as Nathan Rott put it in a piece for All Things Considered. He spoke to several people who reflected, five decades later, on the different paths their lives had taken because of the president's call to action that day. (The Kennedy presidential library also announced the digitizing of much of its collection for the 50th anniversary — including photos, recordings and more.)

Taking The Oath

Quick: Where does the oath of office come from?

Stumped? Morning Edition reminded us in 2009 that it's right there in the Constitution. "It's the only sentence in quotes in the entire Constitution," explained Marvin Pinkert, then-executive director of the National Archives Experience. Pinkert shares the back story of the oath in an interview with Steve Inskeep.

The first printed copy of the draft Constitution, Aug. 6, 1787, annotated by George Washington and others. (Click for full page.) Courtesy of National Archives hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of National Archives

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.