A Brief History of the State of the Union
Compiled by the U.S. News library staff
1. Presidents are not required to make State of the Union addresses. The Constitution says: "He [the president] shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." (Article II, Section 3).
2. George Washington gave the shortest message at 833 words in 1790, and Harry Truman gave the longest address in 1946 at over 25,000 words. Today, addresses are traditionally measured by length of delivery time, not word count.
3. George Washington delivered the "first annual message" in person on Jan. 8, 1790.
4. Thomas Jefferson refused to give his message in person. He believed it was too similar to the format of the British monarch's Speech from the Throne. Instead, he sent a written message to Congress.
5. Two presidents did not serve long enough to give messages. In 1841, William Henry Harrison died after 32 days in office. James A. Garfield was assassinated in 1881 after 199 days in office.
6. After 112 years of written messages, Woodrow Wilsonamid some controversymade his speech before Congress in 1913. Franklin D. Roosevelt permanently established the tradition of the oral address in the 1930s.
7. Calvin Coolidge's 1923 message was the first to be broadcast on radio.
8. The speech was referred to as the "Annual Message" until 1934, when Roosevelt began calling it the "State of the Union." The new name came into general use in 1947.
9. For more than 100 years, the address took place in December. In 1933, the opening date of Congress changed from March to January. Since 1934, addresses have been delivered in January or February.
10. Roosevelt presented 12 addresses, the most given by a president, including 10 appearances before Congress.
11. Truman's 1947 address was the first to be broadcast on television.
12. In 1965, Lyndon Johnson started the tradition of delivering the address in the evening to attract a larger television audience.
13. Sen. Everett Dirksen and Rep. Gerald R. Ford delivered the first response by the opposition party in 1966.
14. The last four presidentsRonald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bushhave not given an address their first year in office.
15. In 1982, Reagan started the tradition of inviting personal guests to sit in the gallery and recognized them during the address.
16. Reagan rescheduled his address on Jan. 28, 1986, following the space shuttle Challenger disaster. He briefed the nation on the day's events and postponed the address for a week.
17. Clinton gave the 1999 address during his impeachment trial.
18. Since Sept. 11, 2001, two members representing different parties from each house of Congress have been relocated to undisclosed locations during the address.
19. George W. Bush's 2002 address was the first available as a live webcast.
20. Bush's 2004 address was the first broadcast on high-definition television.
21. Bush was interrupted by applause more than 60 times during his 2006 address.
- Congressional Research Service
- The American Presidency Project
- Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives
- The National Archives
- Associated Press