Inaugural History: Did You Know?

Changing the date
Originally Inauguration Day was held on March 4, giving the next administration enough time to get up and running. But in 1933, with the country facing a huge economic crisis, the four months in between Election Day and Inauguration Day seemed too long.

The 20th Amendment was ratified on January 23, 1933, fixing Inauguration Day as January 20.

Private Letters
In 1989, outgoing President Ronald Reagan began a tradition, when he left a message for his successor, George H.W. Bush, in the drawer of his Oval Office desk. On stationery with the printed words, "Don't let the turkeys get you down," Mr Reagan wrote, "you'll have moments when you want to use this particular stationery. Well, go to it, George. I treasure the memories we share and wish you the very best. You'll be in my prayers. God bless you and Barbara. I'll miss our Thursday lunches. (signed) Ron.

Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet ...
Ronald Reagan holds the records for the warmest and coldest Inauguration Days. It was 55 degrees in 1981 and seven below in 1985, when the freezing temperatures forced Reagan inside the Capitol for the Oath of Office.

In 1961, on the eve of John F. Kennedy's inauguration, eight inches of snow fell. There was a monumental traffic jam after thousands of visitors abandoned their cars. A small army of engineers, D.C. employees, and even boy scouts worked through the night to clear the parade route.

In 1909, it snowed so much William Howard Taft's inauguration had to be moved indoors. The new president quipped, "I always knew it would be a cold day when I was made president."

The Trip To The Capitol
George Washington rode to his inauguration in a carriage pulled by four horses. Thomas Jefferson was the only president ever to walk to and from his inaugural. Warren G Harding, the first president to know how to drive, was also the first to ride to his inaugural in a car -- a Packard Twin Six. William Howard Taft was the first president to have his wife accompany him in the procession from the Capitol to the White House.

Biblical Tradition
The tradition of taking the oath with a hand on the bible began with George Washington in 1789. Each President-Elect chooses the passage the Bible is open to. No president has chosen the same passage. All but Theodore Roosevelt have followed this tradition. In 1901, he was the only to be sworn-in without a hand on the Bible.

Longest Address, The Shortest Presidency
In 1841, William Henry Harrison was sworn in on a cold and windy day. He spoke for an hour and 40 minutes, the longest inaugural address ever, in fact it was so long he had to finish it after reading the oath. He then rode a horse from the Capitol back to the White House with no hat or overcoat. He got pneumonia and died one month later. His was the shortest presidency in history.

(AP Photo/Henry Burroughs, File)
As Fate Would Have It
A reporter covering Dwight Eisenhower's inaugural parade in 1953 for the Washington Times Herald described it as "one of the most colorful spectacles ever to tumble down Pennsylvania Avenue." The reporter was Jacqueline Bouvier. Eight years later, she would be first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.

Just 35 Words
The oath for the most powerful office in the world is merely 35 words. It went through extensive revisions before being printed into Article II, Section I of the Constitution. George Washington was among those who worked on the text; his notes can be seen in the National Archives.

Moving from East to West
In 1981, Reagan moved the inaugural ceremony from the East Front to the West Front of the Capitol, in effect to look out not at Europe but our own continent.

At that luncheon, Reagan got to announce that the Iranian hostages were free, a kind of good luck portent.

Frozen Food At Dinner
Inaugural balls do not always go as well as planned. President Grant's 1873 inaugural ball was held in a temporary structure with no heat on a night when the temperature was well below freezing. The food froze and people danced in their coats. Canaries brought in to entertain the guests, sang their swan song.

Tight Security
In 1861, fears--very credible--of assassination were so great that President Lincoln has to be brought into the Capitol with unprecedented security. Local police and Army sharpshooters watched from rooftops along Pennsylvania Avenue.

Packing in the crowds
Lyndon Baines Johnson's 1965 inauguration holds the record attendance with an estimated 1.2 million people taking to the streets of Washington. This year's inauguration is expected to smash the record with millions crowding into the capital.

Riding the Rails
When his eight years as president ended, private citizen Harry Truman took the train home to Independence, Mo., and mingled with other passengers along the way. He had no secret service protection.

Everyone Loves A Parade
Parades date back to the very first inauguration, with George Washington taking a procession from Mount Vernon all the way to New York City - where he took the oath of office. Abraham Lincoln was the first president to include African Americans in his parade in 1865 and Woodrow Wilson's second inaugural parade in 1917 wa sthe first to include women.
The longest parade - four and a half hours - was for Dwight D. Eisenhower's first inauguration in 1953.

A costly affair
Inaugurations are financed mostly by private funds, and we've come a long way since 1809 when it cost just $4 to attend James Madison's inaugural ball. This time, ball tickets are going for as much as $2,500 each.

In 2009, total inaugural costs include 10 official balls, 10 giant TV screens on the national mall, 2,000,000 subway maps and 19,000 police and National Guardsmen. All told, the bill is expected to reach $40 million, which will match the price tag of President Bush's last inauguration, until now the most expensive in history.