(The following post is featured in the January/February 2017 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM, and was written by Audrey Fischer, LCM editor. You can read the issue in its entirety here.)
The inauguration of the 45th president will be the social media event of the year.
Today, social media provides an unlimited opportunity for individuals and media outlets to record and be a witness to such historical events as the presidential inauguration. These sounds and images are then instantaneously shared through computers and mobile devices with a global audience.
This is, of course, a relatively new development.
For the nation’s first 100 years, people got their news by word of mouth and from the printed page. Newspaper accounts of presidential inaugurations – with images largely engraved – informed the public. A number of prolific diarists provided first-person accounts for those unable, or uninvited, to attend the festivities in the nation’s capital. Those who received telegrams or glimpsed the first photographic image of the event – James Buchanan’s 1857 inaugural – must have felt that the modern age had truly arrived.
William McKinley’s March 4, 1897, inauguration was the first to be recorded by a movie camera. The 2-minute film footage shows the inaugural procession down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Film footage from McKinley’s second inauguration in 1901 shows the president addressing crowds on Pennsylvania Avenue, riding in a processional to the Capitol and taking the oath of office. The short clips, produced by Thomas Edison, came to the Library through the copyright registration process and are part of the Library’s Paper Print Collection. Discovered in 1942, the paper copies were converted into projectable celluloid images.
McKinley was shot by an assailant while attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, on Sept. 6, 1901, and died a week later from complications. The Library holds film footage of McKinley’s day at the exposition and scenes from his funeral in Canton, Ohio.
Calvin Coolidge’s inauguration in 1925 was the first to be broadcast nationally on radio. The address delivered by the man known as “Silent Cal” could be heard by more than 25 million Americans, according to a New York Times report, making it an unprecedented national event.
Herbert Hoover’s inauguration in 1929 was the first to be recorded by a sound newsreel. It marked the second and last time that a former president, William Howard Taft, administered the presidential oath.
Harry S. Truman’s inauguration in January 1949 was the first to be televised, though few Americans owned their own set. In 1981, Ronald Reagan’s inauguration was broadcast on television with closed captioning for the hearing-impaired. During Reagan’s second inauguration in 1985, a television camera was placed inside his limousine – another first – to capture his trip from the Capitol to the White House.
Bill Clinton’s 1997 second inauguration was the first to be broadcast live on the Internet. President Clinton had signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 at the Library of Congress the previous year.
Barack Obama’s historic first inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009, garnered the highest Internet audience for a presidential swearing-in. It was the first inaugural webcast to include captioning for the hearing-impaired. According to the Wall Street Journal, President Obama’s second inauguration generated 1.1 million tweets – up from 82,000 at the 2009 event.