George and Barbara Bush at the 1989 Stars and Stripes inaugural ball at the Washington, D.C., Convention Center

Starting as single affairs, inaugural balls have grown into many distinct festivities. In 1997, Bill Clinton hosted fourteen official balls.

Some balls were selective; others were open to anyone who paid the admission. Some were formal affairs, whereas at James Polk's two-dollar ball for "pure Democrats," a foreign minister's lady reportedly was seen dancing with her gardener. Jimmy Carter thought "ball" sounded too formal and called his celebrations "parties."

While the number of balls has multiplied, there remains an exclusive atmosphere that proclaims that this is a celebration for the newly instated political elite.

Mamie Eisenhower's inaugural gown
Mamie Eisenhower dressed in her favorite color for her husband's first inaugural ball in 1953. Designed by Nettie Rosenstein, the gown is of pink peau de soie with a mauve undertone, and is embroidered with more than 2,000 rhinestones.
The Pension Building sparkled with thousands of electric lights for William McKinley's second inaugural ball in 1901. Photographed by Frances Benjamin Johnston.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
James Polk's inaugural ball
Scrambling for supper at James Polk's 1845 "pure Democrats" inaugural ball at the National Theatre, from Perley's Reminiscences of Sixty Years in the National Metropolis, 1886.
Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Grover Cleveland's inaugural ball, from Perley's Reminiscences of Sixty Years in the National Metropolis, 1886. The 1885 affair was held in the still-unfinished Pension Building.
Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Bill Clinton playing his saxophone at his 1993 inaugural ball in the National Building Museum (formerly the Pension Building).
George Bush's inaugural ball
Guests pressed against the glass doors of the National Museum of American History, waiting to enter Vice President George Bush's inaugural ball in 1981.
Party reveler at Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1953 inaugural ball
Ticket to William McKinley's inaugural ball
Invitation to Abraham Lincoln's inaugural ball
Souvenir mug from Benjamin Harrison's inauguration