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Presidential inauguration history

George Washington
Many inaugural traditions were started by George Washington

When George Washington was sworn in as US president for the second time in 1793 he gave the shortest inauguration speech ever - just 135 words.

When Barack Obama is installed as president on Tuesday it is likely to be an altogether different affair.

The intervening years have seen Inauguration Day grow into an elaborate all-day extravaganza of ceremonies, parades and balls, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars.

Venue change

One of the most drastic changes in the event's history is that the host city has switched three times.

When Washington became the first US president in 1789 he was inaugurated in New York City. The event then moved to Philadelphia and did not arrive in Washington DC, the newly designated capital city, until 1801 when Thomas Jefferson took the oath of office.

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson: The first president inaugurated in DC

For many decades the east portico of the Capitol building was the favoured setting for the ceremony, until Ronald Reagan's first inauguration in 1981 when it was moved to its current location, the Capitol's west steps.

Reagan had wanted to face west to symbolise his connection to his home state, California. However, the move was also a practical one, allowing hundreds of thousands of spectators to watch the event from the National Mall.

Original oath

Even the timing has changed. Inauguration Day was originally 4 March as it took weeks for votes from outlying areas to be counted and for the newly-elected president to travel to the capital.

Since 1937, however, 20 January has officially set as Inauguration Day, to speed the changeover of administrations.

The one element of the ceremony which has remained unaltered is the taking of the oath of office, the words of which were laid down in the US Constitution by America's founding fathers.

In order to assume his or her duties, the president-elect must say: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) 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."

Most presidents place their hand on a bible to take the oath, but this is not obligatory. That tradition, like many others, began with George Washington after it was determined that an oath without a bible would lack legitimacy.

Washington also began the practice of delivering an inauguration address.

Deadly decision

In 1841, William Henry Harrison defied a driving ice storm for 90 minutes to deliver the longest inauguration speech in history.

Such was his enthusiasm for the event that the new president refused to wear a hat or coat throughout the speech and the long processions to and from the Capitol.

But the decision proved costly - Harrison was already suffering from a cold, and the cold led to pneumonia. Within a month he was dead, the first president to die in office.

The winter weather has often played havoc with inaugurations. In 1985 plummeting temperatures forced Reagan to take the oath of office indoors and his elaborate parade, which was to feature 12,000 people, 66 floats and 57 marching bands, was cancelled.

Extravagant affair

Parades have been long been part of the Inauguration Day tradition. After his second swearing-in, Jefferson rode from the Capitol to the president's house on horseback, surrounded by mechanics from the nearby navy yard and a military band.

Larger and larger parades have been the rule ever since, with the notable exception in 1829 of Andrew Jackson's inauguration. Mourning the death of his wife, Rachel, Jackson rejected the idea of a parade in favour of a stroll to the Capitol.

Dwight D Eisenhower's first inauguration in 1953 was the longest ever. It included 73 bands, 59 floats and horses and elephants and lasted four-and-a-half hours.

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