“[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.”
The formal basis for the State of the Union address is from the U.S. Constitution. Earlier State of the Union addresses (also called Annual Messages) included agency budget requests and general reports on the health of the economy. During the 20th century, Congress required more-specialized reports on these two aspects, separate from the State of the Union. Over time, as the message content changed, so has the focus of the State of the Union.
State of the Union Address
Including President Barack H. Obama’s 2013 address, there have been a total of 92 in person Annual Messages/State of the Union Addresses. Since President Woodrow Wilson’s 1913 address, there have been a total of 80 in person addresses.
Learn more about State of the Union trivia:
President George Washington Delivered his First Regular Annual Message to a Joint Session of Congress
On January 8, 1790, George Washington delivered his first regular Annual Message to a Joint Session of Congress. Washington opted to make his address in person during the opening days of the second session of the 1st Congress (1789–1791). The President arrived by horse-drawn carriage on a cold January morning and spoke in the Senate Chamber of Federal Hall in New York City.
The First Evening Annual Message
On January 3, 1936, during the second session of the 74th Congress (1935–1937), President Franklin D. Roosevelt held the first nighttime Annual Message. Designed to reach the largest possible radio audience, the last-minute decision by Roosevelt to deliver an evening speech, spawned major media attention and heightened interest in Congress and the President.
President John F. Kennedy’s First State of the Union Address
On January 30, 1961, during the 87th Congress (1961–1963), President John F. Kennedy delivered his first State of the Union Address before a Joint Session of Congress. The occasion marked only the second time a newly elected President chose to give such a speech—the first was Kennedy’s predecessor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953.
See more Historical Highlights featuring the State of the Union Address.
President Reagan’s 1986 State of the Union Address
President Ronald Reagan, Vice President George Bush and Speaker Tip O’Neill recognized four young heroes—a science student, a musical prodigy, an advocate for the homeless, and a crossing guard who pulled another child to safety—handpicked by the President as guests at the 1986 State of the Union. Reagan started this tradition at his 1982 State of the Union.
President Truman’s 1950 State of the Union Address
Amidst applause and jeers that fell along party lines, President Harry Truman delivered a speech that addressed the need to increase taxes and cut spending.
More objects of Capitol Hill Events can be found on our Collections page.
Former Director of the House Radio–TV Gallery, Tina Tate, provides historical background on the technical requirements and logistical operations for the television coverage of Members’ responses in Statuary Hall following the State of the Union Address.
More remembrances of Meetings & Ceremonies can be found on our Oral History page.
When Woodrow Wilson became President a century ago, he smashed an old tradition. Wilson had long suspected that the President could act as a prime minister for Congress, formulating party program and directing party strategy. The secret to this kind of leadership was the use of oratorical power to convince others of what was in the public interest. Wilson intended to replace written presidential messages with a direct address to a Joint Session, expecting this would seize the imagination of the country, give him the momentum to enact his policies, and set a new tone for the administration. Read More . . .
This is part of a series of blog posts for educators highlighting the resources available on History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.