1. George Washington
On January 7, 1789, in the nation’s first-ever presidential election, George Washington won the support of every elector who participated. But despite his unanimous win, Washington’s first inauguration didn’t take place until 57 days later, as the new Congress wasn’t able to get a quorum together to receive the election results until then.
Just before Washington was to be sworn in on a balcony of New York City’s Federal Hall on April 30, the organizers discovered there was no Bible on hand. They quickly borrowed one from the nearby Masonic Lodge, and Washington took the oath of office dressed in a dark brown suit with eagles emblazoned on the buttons, a dress sword and fashionably powdered hair.
2. Andrew Jackson
When Andrew Jackson was inaugurated for his first term in 1829, he welcomed a rowdy crowd of 20,000 of his supporters to celebrate with him at the White House after he took the oath of office. The celebration dissolved into a near-brawl, complete with broken furniture and smashed crystal. As one Washington socialite described it: “Ladies fainted, men were seen with bloody noses and such a scene of confusion took place as is impossible to describe.” Jackson himself was forced to escape the mayhem by jumping through a window.
3. William Henry Harrison
Despite the exceedingly cold weather on William Henry Harrison’s inauguration day in 1841, the war hero and incoming president refused to wear a coat or hat, and insisted on riding back to the White House on horseback instead of a covered carriage. “Old Tippecanoe” also delivered the longest address in inaugural history; his speech was 8,445 words long, and took more than two hours to read. Ironically, Harrison’s presidency would turn out to be the briefest in the nation’s history. Shortly after his inauguration, Harrison caught a cold, which turned into pneumonia. He died on April 4, 1841, just 31 days after taking office.
4. Abraham Lincoln
Before Abraham Lincoln's second inauguration in early 1865, incoming Vice President Andrew Johnson drank a few “medicinal” whiskeys to calm his nerves and ease the symptoms of a recent bout of typhoid fever. By the time he rose to take the oath of office, he was visibly drunk, slurring his words and rambling incoherently for some 20 minutes. Lincoln waited patiently with his eyes shut until the embarrassing spectacle ended. He later said Johnson “had made a bad slip” but was “not a drunkard.” Barely one month later, Johnson would be sworn in again, this time as president, after an assassin’s bullet killed Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre.
5. Ulysses S. Grant
The day of Ulysses S. Grant’s second inauguration in March 1873 was one of the coldest March days in the history of Washington, D.C. The recorded temperature was 16˚F at noon, with gusty winds making it feel more like -15° to -30°F. Flags along Pennsylvania Avenue froze or were ripped loose, while ambulances stood by during the inaugural parade to take frostbitten military cadets to the hospital.
Grant’s inaugural ball that evening took place in a temporary structure erected for the grand occasion, but it wasn’t equipped for the cold weather, and the guests kept their heavy overcoats on as they dined and danced. Cold food and frozen champagne weren’t the worst of it however: Some 100 canaries, hanging from the ceiling in cages, were supposed to serenade the guests, but many of the birds froze to death before they could perform.
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6. Dwight D. Eisenhower
During the first inauguration of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953, the newly sworn-in president broke with tradition by reciting his own improvised prayer after taking the oath, rather than kissing the Bible. He then presided over an inaugural parade that featured some 62 bands and 26,000 participants, and a moment that could almost certainly never happen today: With permission from the Secret Service, a California cowboy and trick roper named Montie Montana lassoed the new president, as a grinning Vice President Richard Nixon, among other dignitaries, looked on.
7. John F. Kennedy
LISTEN: John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address
John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961 was full of unscripted moments. First, Lyndon B. Johnson famously botched his vice presidential oath by saying “without any mental reservation whatsoever” rather than “without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.” Then, the podium briefly caught fire due to an electrical short in the power system while Cardinal Richard Cushing was delivering the invocation. Finally, the poet Robert Frost had written an original composition for the occasion but was unable to read it due to the sun’s glare on the snow that had fallen the night before. Instead, Frost recited a different poem, “The Gift Outright,” from memory.
8. Richard Nixon
At one of the packed balls celebrating Richard Nixon’s second inauguration in 1973, held at the Smithsonian’s Museum of History & Technology (now the American History Museum), a rooster escaped from a farm exhibit and joined some of the guests in their $1,000 box. After one guest claimed it “assaulted” her, the Smithsonian’s Secretary S. Dillon Ripley succeeded in capturing the rooster. By smoothing his feathers, he calmed the bird down enough so he could return it to the colonial barn exhibit in the museum’s Growth of the United States hall.
9. Jimmy Carter
After taking his oath in a $175 suit purchased a week earlier in his home state of Georgia, Jimmy Carter surprised spectators when he and his family emerged from the presidential limousine to walk at the head of his inaugural parade in January 1977. The only other president to do so had been Thomas Jefferson, on his first inauguration day in 1803.
Much like Jefferson, Carter wanted to be seen as the “people’s president,” and his decision to walk in the open air down Pennsylvania Avenue made a memorable statement. (By contrast, Richard Nixon’s limo had been escorted by an armed guard including 3,000 District police, 5,000 regular troops and 1,000 National Guardsmen at his first inauguration in 1969.) Carter’s nine-year-old daughter, Amy, even skipped part of the way back to the White House. Presidents after Carter would follow his example and walk for at least part of the procession to the White House.
10. Barack Obama
At Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, he and Chief Justice John Roberts got their signals crossed while Roberts was administering the oath of office in front of a record-breaking crowd of nearly 2 million people. After Obama inadvertently interrupted Roberts, the chief justice, who was not using notes, flubbed the wording of the oath, saying “That I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully,” rather than the exact wording (“That I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States”) prescribed by the U.S. Constitution. As Obama then repeated Roberts’ incorrect wording, constitutional scholars questioned whether he had been properly sworn in. Obama and Roberts ended up doing the whole thing over again at the White House the following day—this time without a hitch.