Year
1789

George Washington attends inaugural ball

On this day in 1789, President George Washington attends a ball in his honor. The event provided a model for the first official inaugural ball, held to celebrate James Madison’s ascension to the office ten years later, which then became an annual tradition.

Washington was sworn in as the first president of the United States on April 30, 1789. A week later, an elaborate ball was held to celebrate the event in New York, the temporary headquarters of the federal government, in a building on Broadway near Wall Street. Unfortunately for the president, his wife Martha was unable to attend. She was still at their estate Mt. Vernon, in Virginia, where she was wrapping up business affairs before making the trip to New York.

Washington arrived at the ball in the company of other American statesmen and their wives. That evening he danced with many of New York’s society ladies. Vice President John Adams, members of Congress and visiting French and Spanish dignitaries, as well their wives and daughters, joined in the festivities. Eliza Hamilton, wife of Alexander Hamilton, recorded her impressions of the ball in her memoirs, noting that the president liked to dance the minuet, a dance she thought was suited to his dignity and gravity.

Following Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson held much more informal inaugural celebrations. But in 1809, Madison’s gregarious wife Dolly threw a gala for 400 people at Long’s Hotel in Washington, D.C. Since then, formal inaugural balls have been held almost every four years to celebrate new presidential terms. As the tradition evolved, venues changed to accommodate the increase in attendees. In 1957, multiple balls were held at several venues for Eisenhower’s inauguration. Presidents since Eisenhower have spent inaugural night making whirlwind stops at a series of parties. Both Woodrow Wilson and Warren Harding cancelled their inaugural balls in order to save money; Franklin Pierce cancelled his due to the recent death of his son. Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt held charity balls for their inaugurations. William Henry Harrison attended three balls after standing all morning in freezing cold conditions at his inaugural ceremony. Soon after, he caught a cold that later developed into pneumonia. He died of complications from the pneumonia 30 days into his term.

The record number of inaugural balls attended in one night by a president is 15, set by President Bill Clinton in 1997. George H.W. Bush ran a close second, making 11 stops in 1989.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Pontiac’s Rebellion begins

Pontiac’s Rebellion begins when a confederacy of Native American warriors under Ottawa chief Pontiac attacks the British force at Detroit. After failing to take the fort in their initial assault, Pontiac’s forces, made up of Ottawas and reinforced by Wyandots, Ojibwas, and ...read more

Lusitania sinks

On the afternoon of May 7, 1915, the British ocean liner Lusitania is torpedoed without warning by a German submarine off the south coast of Ireland. Within 20 minutes, the vessel sank into the Celtic Sea. Of 1,959 passengers and crew, 1,198 people were drowned, including 128 ...read more

French defeated at Dien Bien Phu

In northwest Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh forces decisively defeat the French at Dien Bien Phu, a French stronghold besieged by the Vietnamese communists for 57 days. The Viet Minh victory at Dien Bien Phu signaled the end of French colonial influence in Indochina and cleared ...read more

The Scream recovered

On May 7, 1994, Norway’s most famous painting, “The Scream” by Edvard Munch, was recovered almost three months after it was stolen from a museum in Oslo. Thefragile painting was recovered undamaged at a hotel in Asgardstrand, about 40 miles south of Oslo, police said. The iconic ...read more

German submarine sinks Lusitania

The earlier German attacks on merchant ships off the south coast of Ireland prompted the British Admiralty to warn the Lusitania to avoid the area or take simple evasive action, such as zigzagging to confuse U-boats plotting the vessel’s course. The captain of the Lusitania ...read more

French fall to Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu

Dien Bien Phu falls to the Viet Minh. In March, a force of 40,000 Viet Minh troops with heavy artillery had surrounded 15,000 French soldiers, holding the French position under siege. The Viet Minh guerrillas had been fighting a long and bloody war with French colonial interests ...read more

Gary Cooper is born

Gary Cooper, the star of High Noon and other classic Westerns, is born in Helena, Montana. Born Frank James Cooper, he was the son of well-to-do lawyer who eventually won election to the Montana Supreme Court Justice. The family owned a 500-acre ranch near Helena, where Cooper ...read more

Gary Cooper born

On this day in 1901, Gary Cooper, who will become famous for his performances in such movies as High Noon and The Pride of the Yankees, is born in Helena, Montana. Cooper grew up on the ranch owned by his wealthy father, a Montana Supreme Court Justice. He was educated largely in ...read more

Volcanic eruption buries Caribbean city

On this day in 1902, Martinique’s Mount Pele begins the deadliest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. The following day, the city of Saint Pierre, which some called the Paris of the Caribbean, was virtually wiped off the map. Mount Pele, the name meaning bald in French, ...read more

A serial killer is hanged

Dr. H. H. Holmes, one of America’s first well-known serial killers, is hanged to death in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Although his criminal exploits were just as extensive and occurred during the same time period as Jack the Ripper, the Arch Fiend–as Holmes was known–has not ...read more

Grant leaves the Wilderness for Spotsylvania

Following two days of intense fighting in Virginia’s Wilderness forest, the Army of the Potomac, under the command of Union General Ulysses S. Grant, moves south. Grant’s forces had clashed with Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in a pitched and ...read more

Brezhnev becomes president of the USSR

Leonid Brezhnev, one of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s most trusted proteges, is selected as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet—the Soviet equivalent to the presidency. This was another important step in Brezhnev’s rise to power in Russia, a rise that he later ...read more

Pontiac’s plot is foiled

On this day in 1763, Major Henry Gladwin, British commander of Fort Detroit, foils Ottawa Chief Pontiac’s attempt at a surprise attack. Romantic lore holds that Gladwin’s Seneca mistress informed him of the western Indians’ plans for an uprising. When Pontiac arrived at the fort ...read more