The first presidential inauguration was held on April 30, 1789, in what was then the nation’s capital of New York City. On a second floor balcony of Federal Hall, George Washington took the oath of office as the first president of the United States. With one hand on the Bible, Washington recited the words that would be said by every president after him: "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
1 / 19: Universal History Archive/Getty Images
In the nearly 250 years since, many traditions around presidential inaugurations have remained the same—but a lot has changed. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson became the first president to be sworn in in the nation’s new capital, Washington, D.C., the site of nearly all inaugurations since. After Washington and until Franklin D. Roosevelt, inaugurations were always held on March 4, the anniversary of the Constitution first taking effect in 1789. After the passage of the 20th Amendment in 1933, however, Inauguration Day became January 20.
James Buchanan’s inauguration ceremony in 1857 was the first to be photographed. William McKinley's in 1897 was the first to be filmed and Harry Truman’s in 1949 was the first to be televised. The introduction of cameras brought a wider audience to the ceremonies and to the peaceful transfer of power in action—another sacred American tradition since the days of Washington.
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