Hail to the Chief

Important Inaugural Moments in the Paley Center Collection

Here at the Paley Center, we have footage of nearly every inauguration since Dwight D. Eisenhower available in the library for public viewing. In anticipation of January 20, 2009, our curators took a look at the past sixty-five years of inaugurations, and reported back with a few of their more notable observations.

Hail to the Chief CONTINUES...

Dwight D. Eisenhower

In the coverage by CBS News of the first Inauguration Day of Dwight D. Eisenhower, January 20, 1953, the sponsor, the Packard Motor Car Company, takes credit for “presenting the inaugural ceremonies.” On the main page we saw how “television correspondent” Walter Cronkite recounted a humorous anecdote concerning outgoing president Harry Truman’s response to an inquiry about whether he would accompany incoming president Eisenhower on the ride from the White House to Capitol Hill for the inauguration ceremony. In this clip, we get a taste of some of the more substantive remarks made by Eisenhower in his inaugural address, in addition to the expected Cold War rhetoric, which made up much of the speech.

John F. Kennedy

Just-inaugurated President John F. Kennedy inspires the country with his optimistic and inspirational words in this excerpt from his January 20, 1961, inaugural address.

John F. Kennedy

In this special CBS News coverage of the largest of the five inaugural balls held on January 20, 1961, Walter Cronkite mentions President Kennedy’s propensity for taking off on his own in order to get close to the people and comments that “this may turn out to be a problem for the Secret Service.” First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy is shown seated with her in-laws, Joseph and Rose Kennedy, as well as with Vice President and Mrs. Johnson. And correspondent Nancy Hanschman (later Dickerson) jokes with Senator Clinton Anderson of New Mexico about atom bombs and homburgs.

Lyndon B. Johnson

President Lyndon B. Johnson exhibits the more positive, humanistic aspirations of his personality and his presidency in this clip from his inaugural address on January 20, 1965.

Ronald Reagan

President-elect Ronald Reagan was supposed to be the sole focus of attention on January 20, 1981, but things failed to work out exactly as planned. The Algiers Accords had been agreed upon the previous day, and as a result, the American hostages in Iran, who at that point had been held captive for a mind-boggling 444 days, were set to be released. Many people attributed President Jimmy Carter’s loss in the election to the Iran hostage crisis, so Carter was undoubtedly hoping he could see a happy resolution to the situation while still in office. However, as Sam Donaldson reports in this clip, the Iranians “cheated him right down to the end.” The plane carrying the hostages was sitting at the end of the runway in Tehran all morning, but did not take off until a few minutes after Reagan was sworn in as the new president.

George W. Bush

Few transitions of power in the United States have been wracked with more turmoil and controversy than the 2000 presidential election, in which the torch was finally passed to George W. Bush after weeks of recounts and a Supreme Court decision in Bush’s favor. In the end, Florida’s twenty-five electoral votes eluded Vice President Al Gore, but he did claim more popular votes than his opponent, a fact that Gore supporters were loath to let anyone forget. When January 20, 2001, rolled around, upwards of fifteen thousand citizens descended on Washington to protest the results of the election. The biggest gathering of inaugural protestors since Nixon’s 1972 re-election against the background of the Vietnam War, men, women, and children sported homemade signs with slogans like “Hail to the Thief,” and greeted the presidential limousine with jeers as it rolled up Pennsylvania Avenue.

Photos (top to bottom): Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush


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