Donald Trump — like it or not — is officially our President. He was sworn in today, Jan. 20, 2017, during a historic inauguration ceremony.
Plenty of Americans have misgivings about this year’s election, but inaugural celebrations are an important part of our history — and are steeped in rich tradition. Today’s event is the perfect opportunity to teach your kids what inauguration ceremonies are all about, past and present.
1. Presidential inaugurations have a theme
Eight years ago, President Obama’s first inauguration was themed ”A New Birth of Freedom,” which is a line from the Gettysburg Address. In 2013, the theme was “Faith in America’s Future.”
Trump’s theme was — you guessed it — “Make America Great Again.”
2. The inaugural platform is built from scratch
For each inauguration, the platform, which holds more than 1,600 people during the ceremony, including the President of the United States and his family, is built from scratch.
The 58th Presidential Inaugural Platform used today was more than 10,000 square feet, which has been the regulation platform size every year since 2005, according to the Joint Congressional Committee of Inaugural Ceremonies. In addition to the President, the platform always holds members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, cabinet members and nominees, Supreme Court justices, former presidents, and the vice president and his family.
3. The first presidential inauguration wasn’t in Washington, DC
When the very first president, George Washington, was inaugurated, it didn’t take place in Washington, DC. In 1789, New York City was the U.S. capital. George Washington carried a sword during his ceremony.
4. It wasn’t always on TV
Before television broadcasts, Americans only had the option to travel to the location of the presidential inauguration if they wanted to watch the ceremony. In 1949, Harry S. Truman was the first president to have an inauguration broadcast on TV.
5. The weather doesn’t always cooperate
The weather isn’t always pleasant for a presidential inauguration. In 1873, when Ulysses S. Grant was sworn in, it was only 16 degrees at noon. William H. Taft’s Presidential Inauguration took place indoors because of a massive blizzard. During Ronald W. Reagan’s Inauguration, it was 7 degrees.
6. The process begins with the First Nail Ceremony
Long before the inaugural ceremonies, the First Nail Ceremony marks the beginning of the long process of building the huge platform. For this election, it took place on September 21, 2016.
Politicians who got in on the action for the 2016 First Nail Ceremony were Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies Chairman Senator Roy Blunt, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Charles Schumer, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Senator Blunt called the construction, “One of the most important temporary jobs done by the Architect of the Capitol,” since the platform will hold so many dignitaries, and because it marks a peaceful transition of government.
7. The Bibles used are a big deal
During the presidential inauguration, the president is sworn in on a Bible. The Bibles are often heirlooms. The Bible may be open or closed, and different presidents have opened the Bible to different pages. Ronald W. Reagan used a family Bible given to him by his mother. President Obama used the same Bible Abraham Lincoln used at his presidential inauguration.
Trump was sworn in on two Bibles: One of his own that was a gift from his mother when he graduated from Sunday Church Primary School in 1955, and Lincoln’s Bible, according to a press release.
8. The presidential inauguration is an all-day event
There are lots of events throughout the day during the inaugural ceremonies. These include the procession to the Capitol, the vice president’s swearing-in ceremony, the Inaugural Address, the Inaugural Parade and the Inaugural Ball.
9. President Barack H. Obama’s initial Inaugural Ceremony involved many firsts
On January 20, 2009, President Obama’s inauguration was the largest inauguration attendance in U.S. history. It was also the largest attendance of any event in Washington DC’s history. He was the first African-American to hold the office of President of the United States, and the first Hawaiian-born citizen.
10. President Obama was sworn in to his second term a day before the public ceremony
When President Obama was sworn in after being re-elected in 2013, presidents had been sworn into office 69 times, but his was the 57th presidential inauguration.
He was sworn in privately on Jan. 20th, the constitutionally-mandated date for presidential inauguration. Because it fell on a Sunday, the public ceremony was held on Monday, Jan. 21.
Originally published January 2013. Updated January 2017.