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Headlining the Inauguration

When a new president is ushered into the annals of history, the nation turns its eyes to Washington, D.C., for the pomp and circumstance that surrounds the inauguration ceremony. Newspaper headlines scream of the stately affair, picking speech sound bites from the new commander-in-chief and offering commentary on everything from the procession to the weather.

May 14, 1903, issue of The San Francisco Call (1895-1913) Newspapers and Current Periodicals Reading Room, Library of Congress. Prints and Photographs Division

A story titled “Dramatic Incidents of Presidential Inaugurations” in the Feb. 28, 1909 issue of The Washington Herald gave an overview of some of the more noteworthy occurrences of inaugurations past. According to reporter John S. Harwood, the Library’s own presidential benefactors – Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Adams – weren’t without a bit of gossip-worthy news.

“Adams had been a candidate for re-election in one of the most bitterly fought campaigns in the history of the country. Upon the election of Thomas Jefferson, Adams told his friends that he would quit Washington before his successful rival set foot there. And he did.”

“Nothing frosty or formal characterized the first real inaugural ball, which was the imposing dramatic incident of the Madison inaugural. The dancing began at 7 o’clock sharp. President Madison was present at the function for a time, but his personality seemed to be a damper on the spirits of the crowd. He cared little for dancing, and seemed so bored by the spectacle that he almost went to sleep.”

Some of the tidbits in the San Francisco Call piece of March 6, 1909, that recalled Martin Van Buren’s 1837 inauguration seem to foreshadow the horde expected for Barack Obama’s ceremony on Jan. 20, 2009.

“The 4th of March … was a beautiful day, and the inauguration ceremonies of Martin Van Buren were elaborate, and the crowds in Washington severely taxed the capacity of the city. Van Buren was the first native American citizen inaugurated president, for all the others had been born British subjects.”

Searching for “presidential inaugurations” in Chronicling America will pull up pages and pages of historical newspapers commenting on and covering past events. The site allows you to search and view newspaper pages from 1880-1910 and find information about American newspapers published from 1690-present. Chronicling America is sponsored jointly by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress as part of the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP).

In January 1830, Librarian of Congress John Silva Meehan had been instructed to place the latest numbers of periodicals received by the Library on a special table “for the convenience of readers.” In 1867 a small, separate periodicals reading room was created for members of Congress. Thirty years later, the division was officially established, and on Jan. 22, 1900, a separate newspaper-periodical reading room was opened in the Thomas Jefferson Building.

The Serial and Government Publications Division maintains one of the most extensive newspaper collections in the world. It is exceptionally strong in United States newspapers, with 9,000 titles covering the past three centuries. With more than 25,000 non-U.S. titles, it is the largest collection of overseas newspapers in the world. Beyond its newspaper holdings, the division also has extensive collections of current periodicals (70,000 titles) comic books (6,000 titles) and government publications (one million items).

As part of its contribution to Chronicling America, the Serial and Government Publications Division maintains an RSS feed with updates on new content, points of interest, research and reuse of the Chronicling America digitized newspapers. Get headlines from 100 years ago direct to your inbox.

The division is also home to the complete 71-week WWI run of The Stars and Stripes newspaper. From February 8, 1918, to June 13, 1919, by order of General John J. Pershing, the U. S. Army published the newspaper for its forces in France during World War 1.

A. May 14, 1903, issue of The San Francisco Call (1895-1913). Serial and Government Publications Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction information not available.

B. Newspapers and Current Periodicals Reading Room, Library of Congress. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-88126 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: LOT 12562 [item] [P&P]