by Spencer Howard
Seventy-three years ago this week Herbert Hoover was inaugurated as the 31st President of the United States on March 4, 1929. The basic facts are well known: it was a rainy day; the major topics of Hoover’s inaugural address were foreign policy and the enforcement of Prohibition; Chief Justice (and former-President)William Howard Taft muffed the oath of office. But for a detailed, behind-the-scenes view of the event, the official Report of the Inaugural Committee is a treasure trove of information.
Keep in mind that there were (and even today are) actually two inaugural committees. The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, which is comprised of members of Congress, is in charge of all the activities at the Capitol building. All of the other activities and events are planned by a separate Inaugural Committee. In 1929, this committee was organized by the Republican Party and consisted of about 200 prominent individuals from Washington society.
Here are some interesting trivia from the report:
The fireworks display, which was delayed until March 6 due to the rainy weather, cost $3,000 and was reported to be the most magnificent ever seen in Washington.
Henry K. Bush-Brown, a local sculptor, was commissioned to design a commemorative medallion, which was then struck by the U. S. Mint. Two were struck in gold and given to Mr. Hoover and Mr. Curtis. One thousand were struck in bronze and were sold for $2.50 each.
First Aid stations were set up with the assistance of the Red Cross in ten locations around the Capitol, and the report lists all the doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers who served on duty. Ninety-nine “casualties” were treated.
Automobile manufacturers loaned cars to the Inaugural Committee, for general transportation as well as for the parade. Cadillac loaned 160 cars, Packard 40, Rolls Royce 3 and Pierce Arrow 1.
By Mr. Hoover’s request, the Inaugural Parade was to be kept short-no longer than two hours. As a result, participation by civic groups, school bands, and other organizations was fairly limited. Iowa was represented in the parade by Governor John Hammill, the Coe College Band, and a delegation of citizens from Hoover’s home town of West Branch.
Times have changed. Contemporary inaugurations may include ten or more formal balls, rock concerts and other performances, numerous other events, and cost tens of millions of dollars. Hoover’s inauguration cost $246,024.44, and the Secretary of the Inaugural Committee offered the following advice to future Inaugural Committees:
“A suggestion, which I am sure would prove of great helpfulness to future Committees, would be the installation of two telephone trunk lines and the absolute necessity of a switch-board with an attendant… The Office Force of two secretaries seemed to have been sufficient to carry the load… My suggestion would also be that a messenger should be employed during the entire month of February as the service of one was found to be extremely useful during the last two weeks of the Inaugural period this year.”