Presidents Party with the Best of Them

Presidents know how to party, too. The tradition of the Inaugural Ball (or balls, in modern times) takes place after the Commander in Chief takes the oath of office on Inauguration Day. Guests at the balls are provided with food, music, and a night of dancing.

Barack Obama was sworn in for his second term as President of the United States on Monday, January 21. After his inauguration, President Obama held two inaugural balls; during his first term, Obama held ten. Guests were treated to performances from prominent artists, including Alicia Keys, Brad Paisley, and Stevie Wonder. Obama was certainly not the first president to throw a gala or two after his inauguration. The history of the Inaugural Ball began with the very first President of the United States, George Washington.

In 1789, George Washington, wearing his famous dentures, went out to a party in his honor. The president of the newly formed Union celebrated in New York City, which was then the capital of the United States. Although Washington’s supporters hosted the festivities, the tradition of the Inaugural Ball wasn’t established for twenty more years, according to the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Dolley Madison set the standard for the Inaugural Ball in 1809, when she hosted a celebration for her husband, James Madison.

Since the time of the Madisons, Presidents have been hosting balls to celebrate their victories and to establish the carefully-planned tone for their administration. Perhaps the most elaborate of the early inaugural balls was that of Grover Cleveland. In 1893, Cleveland’s guests were served oysters, lobsters, and ice cream, amidst a banner that spelled out every former president’s name in light bulbs, according to The Washington Post. Guests could choose between dancing to the 120 piece orchestra and getting groomed by ten barbers, who were hired to attend to the male guests.

Over the years, the number of Inaugural Balls for each president has grown, topping out at Bill Clinton’s fourteen celebrations for his second term. After Clinton’s administration, George W. Bush held eight Inaugural Balls for his first term and nine for his second. President Obama’s first term kept the number steady at ten, until he reduced it to two for his recent inauguration. This year, Obama became the first president since Eisenhower to throw only two inaugural balls.

Like previous inaugurations, the 2013 ceremony and its festivities were aired live on television. On the night of January 21, 2013, Americans watched as President Obama and his guests danced into history.


  1. That is so crazy that Cleveland had barbers for everyone! cool cool 😀

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