United States presidential inaugural balls are large social gatherings, both white tie and black tie, held to celebrate the commencement of a new term of the president of the United States. Planned and sanctioned by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, the official inaugural balls occur throughout the evening of Inauguration Day in the Washington D.C. area and are invitation-only, attended by guests who are issued pre-paid tickets. The president, first lady, vice president, and second lady or gentleman all make personal appearances at each of the inaugural balls held in their honor. Catered food, beverages, and live entertainment performed by national and globally acclaimed musicians are provided at the inaugural balls.
Other inaugural balls, unofficial and often less formal, also occur before and on Inauguration Day, being given by state societies, businesses, and private organizations.
The tradition of presidential inaugural balls in the United States has evolved over time. The first inaugural ball was held by sponsors on May 7, 1789, in New York City, one week after the first inauguration of George Washington.
In 1809, Dolley Madison hosted a gala at Long's Hotel in Washington D.C. after the first inauguration of James Madison was held earlier in the day at the United States Capitol, where a total of 400 tickets were sold for $4 a piece. In 1833, two balls were held for the second inauguration of Andrew Jackson, and in 1841, a third ball was added for the inauguration of William Henry Harrison.
In 1865, a ball was held for Abraham Lincoln's second inauguration in the Model Room at the United States Patent Office, the first ball held in a government building, while in 1869, Grant, during his first inauguration, was honored with an inaugural ball held at the Treasury Building.
Three presidents have cancelled inaugural balls for various reasons: Franklin Pierce did so in 1853 as he was mourning the recent death of his son, while Woodrow Wilson in 1913 felt that inaugural balls were too expensive; after Warren G. Harding, who wanted to set an example of simplicity, cancelled his in 1921, he temporarily ended the custom of inaugural balls.
Private parties known as "charity balls" were held during the second inauguration of Calvin Coolidge in 1925, for the inauguration of Herbert Hoover in 1929, and most notably during the Great Depression and World War II-era inaugurations of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, 1937, 1941, and 1945.
Official inaugural balls were not reinstated until the Second inauguration of Harry S. Truman in 1949. Due to their growing popularity, the number of inaugural balls grew starting in the 1950s: during the 1953 inauguration of Dwight D. Eisenhower, there were two, and by 1957, there were a total of four balls held for Eisenhower's second inauguration. A fifth was added for the Inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961.
Reflecting the mood of previous presidents in the early 20th century, Jimmy Carter stripped his 1977 inaugural balls of their frivolity and glamor, and charged no more than $25 per ticket.
By 1997, the number of inaugural balls reached a peak of fourteen during the second inauguration of Bill Clinton, being reduced to eight for the first inauguration of George W. Bush in 2001 and nine for his second inauguration in 2005.
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