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HISTORY

Inauguration Day trivia! From historic firsts to feats

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second inauguration in 1937 was the first to take place on Jan. 20.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second inauguration in 1937 was the first to take place on Jan. 20.Thomas D. McAvoy/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Joe Biden is about to be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States — while Kamala Harris makes history as the first-ever woman, the first Black American, and the first South Asian American to take the oath as vice president. All this you know. But here are a few Inauguration Day facts you might not know.

MARCH FORTH!

Inauguration Day used to be held on March 4. The 20th Amendment, certified in 1933 and commonly known as the “Lame Duck Amendment,” moved the day to Jan. 20 (or Jan. 21 in case the 20th falls on a Sunday) — a lot closer to the start of a new Congress. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second inauguration in 1937 was the first to take place on Jan. 20.

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SWORN ON HIS LIFE

A lithograph depicts William Henry Harrison's presidential inauguration in 1841.
A lithograph depicts William Henry Harrison's presidential inauguration in 1841. Library of Congress/The Washington Post

A hatless, coatless, 68-year-old William Henry Harrison was sworn in on a wet, cold March 4, 1841, giving the longest inaugural address in history … and died one month later of pneumonia. At least according to his doctor, Thomas Miller. Harrison sure broke a lot of records: longest address, shortest-serving, first to die in office — but did his inauguration kill him? That’s disputed. A 2014 study concluded the ninth president actually died from enteric fever, “likely a consequence of the unsanitary conditions” in the US capital during most of the 19th century.

WEATHER LOWS

The 1909 inauguration of William H. Taft was the snowiest on record.
The 1909 inauguration of William H. Taft was the snowiest on record.Keystone View Company/Library of Congress

The coldest January inauguration on record? That goes to Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration. In 1985, the mercury dipped to a frigid 7 degrees, with afternoon wind chill temps in the range of 10- to 20-below. The coldest March inauguration goes to Ulysses S. Grant’s second swearing in, in 1873. The morning low temperature of 4 degrees remains D.C.’s coldest March day on record. With raging winds, wind chill temps were 15- to 30-below that afternoon. The snowiest? In 1909, some 9.8 inches fell when William H. Taft was sworn into office, all according to the National Weather Service.

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WEATHER HIGHS

President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan after the 1981 inauguration.
President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan after the 1981 inauguration.George Tames/New York Times

The warmest January inauguration on record, again, goes to Reagan, who saw a balmy 55-degree Inauguration Day in 1981. Officially, the warmest March inauguration goes to Woodrow Wilson in 1913, who saw 55 degrees. It’s estimated that Jefferson also saw 55 degrees, on March 4, 1801, but official weather records didn’t begin until 1871, according to the NWS. It’s estimated that George Washington saw 61 degrees for his second inauguration in 1793 in Philadelphia. Technically, Gerald Ford had the hottest inauguration in ’74 with 89 degrees — but that was August.

NEW ENGLAND NATIVES

Four Massachusetts natives have taken the oath: Braintree’s John Adams in 1797 and his son, John Quincy Adams, in 1825; JFK in 1961, and Milton native George H. W. Bush in 1989. Vermont’s Chester A. Arthur took office in 1881 and Calvin Coolidge in 1923. New Hampshire’s Franklin Pierce was inaugurated in 1853 and Connecticut-born George W. Bush in 2001.

THE GOOD BOOKS

Joe Biden took the oath for the vice presidency in 2013.
Joe Biden took the oath for the vice presidency in 2013.Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post

The tradition of swearing on a Bible dates back to George Washington. Biden will swear on his massive Biden family Bible, which dates to 1893. Biden has used the same 5-inch thick book for every swearing in since he first became a senator in 1973. “[E]very time I’ve been sworn in for anything, the date has been on that and it’s inscribed on the Bible,” Biden told Stephen Colbert last month. (Dr. Jill Biden will hold the Bible during the ceremony. “Have you been working out?” Colbert joked.) Harris, meanwhile, will be sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and take her oath on a Bible owned by Thurgood Marshall. Most presidents swear on the Bible — but not all. John Quincy Adams chose a law book containing the Constitution. He was also the first president to wear pants, rather than knee breeches, to his Inauguration.

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THE FIRST INAUGURATION

A painting depicts George Washington's inauguration on April 30, 1789.
A painting depicts George Washington's inauguration on April 30, 1789.

George Washington’s first inauguration was held not in March, but on April 30, 1789, and not in D.C., but Federal Hall in New York City — oh, and they forgot the Bible. The Inauguration Day parade happened to be marshaled by a man named Jacob Morton, a freemason who also served as master of nearby St. John’s Lodge. So Morton quickly ran to grab a Bible from the Masonic Lodge.

NUMBERS GAME

Biden, 78, will make history as the oldest person ever sworn in as president. The youngest? Teddy Roosevelt was just 42 when inaugurated in September 1901, taking over after the assassination of William McKinley. Brookline native John F. Kennedy was 43 on his Inauguration Day. Both Bill Clinton and Ulysses S. Grant were 46. Barack Obama was 47. Franklin Pierce was 48. The median age is 55 years and 3 months — the exact age of Lyndon B. Johnson when he was sworn in after JFK’s assassination.

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A TALE OF TWO CITIES

Washington is the only elected president to be inaugurated in two different cities. However, Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and Johnson were each inaugurated in different cities after taking over due to a president’s death. For the record: the first Washington, D.C., inauguration was Thomas Jefferson’s in 1801.

INNOVATION INAUGURATIONS

Harry S. Truman's inaugural address was the first to be televised in 1949
Harry S. Truman's inaugural address was the first to be televised in 1949BECKER/Associated Press

Speaking of Jefferson, his was the first inaugural speech to be reprinted in a newspaper, the National Intelligencer. The Ford Model T was introduced in 1908 — but it wasn’t until March 4, 1921, that President Warren G. Harding became the first president to ride to and from his inauguration in an automobile, according to the White House Historical Association. Meanwhile, the first inauguration that Americans could hear over the radio was Calvin Coolidge’s in 1925. The first one televised was President Harry Truman’s in 1949. And Clinton’s second inauguration in 1997 was the first to be livestreamed on a newfangled thing called the Internet.

Lauren Daley can be reached at ldaley33@gmail.com. She tweets @laurendaley1.


Lauren Daley can be reached at ldaley33@gmail.com. Follow her on Twiiter @laurendaley1.