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Inaugural Ball History

Who Pays for Inaugural Balls


President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attend an inaugural ball on Jan. 20, 2009, in Washington, D.C.

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images News

Inaugural balls are the traditional parties held after the president of the United States is sworn into office every four years. They are lavish, black-tie affairs designed to celebrate the transition of power in the nation's highest office.

Most of the inaugural balls are open to the public, but some require tickets. Tickets to the inaugural ball being held in 2013 following President Barack Obama's re-election two a second term, for example, ran $60 apiece.

Modern-day inaugural balls cost tens of millions of dollars to put on, though most of the money is raised from private sources. Also, there is often more than one inaugural ball held following a swearing-in ceremony.

First Inaugural Ball

The very first inaugural ball was held on May 7, 1789, in honor of President George Washington, according to the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. But the real tradition began years later, in 1809, when First Lady Dolley Madison hosted an inaugural ball for President James Madison.

According to the Inaugural Ceremonies, tickets to the Long's Hotel ball ran $4 apiece, and 400 were sold. Since then, the inaugural ball has become the marquee social event for politicians, power-brokers and even starstruck members of the public who like to rub elbows with their lawmakers.

Who Pays for Inaugural Balls

The pomp surrounding Obama's first inauguration in 2009 ran an estimated $150 million, according to several published reports.

So who pays for the inauguration and all of the inaugural balls? Private donors, mostly. Taxpayers do, however, cover the costs of security for the president and the numerous elected officials who attend the events.

In 2009, the Presidential Inaugural Committee for Obama raised more than $40 million to help pay for many of the festivities, including concerts put on by the pop-rock band U2 and Bruce Springsteen.

Inaugural balls were lavish affairs before now, however. For President James Buchanan's inauguration in 1857, organizers of his ball purchased some "$3,000 worth of wine, 400 gallons of oysters, 500 quarts of chicken salad, 1,200 quarts of ice cream, 60 saddles of mutton, eight rounds of beef, 75 hams and 125 tongues," according to the Inaugural Ceremonies committee.

Number of Inaugural Balls

Organizers for the Obama inaugural ceremonies held 10 official balls in 2009 but scaled back that number to just two in 2013 - the public Inaugural Ball and the invitation-only Commander-in-Chief's Ball.

The most inaugural balls held in one year was 14 in 1997, for the second swearing-in of President Bill Clinton.

Not So Extravagant Inaugural Balls

One inaugural ball that wasn't so glitzy was the party thrown by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945. Roosevelt is said to have made a brief speech at the White House and served his gusts cold chicken salad.

Earlier in history, President Woodrow Wilson canceled inaugural ceremonies in 1913 and 1917 after calling them too expensive, undignified and inappropriate for such a solemn occasion as the swearing in of a president.

Later presidents followed suit, and the inaugural planning committees instead held charity balls. Such events were held following the swearing-in ceremonies for Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The revival of what we now know as the inaugural ball came in 1949, under President Harry Truman.

Inaugural Balls by President

Here's a list of how many inaugural balls were held by presidents in modern political history:

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower: 2 in 1953, 4 in 1957
  • John F. Kennedy: 5 in 1961
  • Bill Clinton: 14 in 1997
  • George W. Bush: 8 in 2001, 9 in 2005
  • Barack Obama: 10 in 2009, 2 in 2013
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