The first presidential inauguration took place on April 30, 1789, in what was then the nation’s capital of New York. On a balcony on the second floor of Federal Hall, George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States. With his left hand over the Bible, Washington recited the words that would be spoken by each president after him: “I solemnly swear that I will faithfully perform the office of President of the United States, and I will do so to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. “
In the nearly 250 years since, many traditions surrounding presidential inaugurations have remained the same, but much has changed. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson became the first president to be sworn in in the country’s new capital, Washington, DC, the site of nearly all inaugurations since. After Washington and until Franklin D. Roosevelt, inaugurations always took place on March 4, with the anniversary of the Constitution taking effect for the first time in 1789. After the passage of the 20th Amendment in 1933, however, the day of the inauguration became January 20.
James Buchanan’s dedication ceremony in 1857 was the first to be photographed. William McKinley 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 larger audience to ceremonies and the peaceful transfer of power in action – another sacred American tradition since Washington days.