State of the Union firsts

President Barack Obama delivered the State of the Union address to Congress in 2012.

Story highlights

  • Obama is only African-American to address joint session or joint meeting of Congress
  • The first high-definition TV broadcast of the State of the Union was in 2004
  • First televised State of the Union was Harry Truman's 1947 address
  • George Washington's 1790 address is believed to have lasted less than 10 minutes

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama will present his fourth State of the Union address, the 224th in the nation's history. However, this will be only the 80th time a president has delivered the speech before Congress -- earlier presidents routinely delivered a written message to be read to Congress.

Here are some firsts from past State of the Union addresses:

First African-American: Obama is the only African-American to have addressed a joint session or joint meeting of Congress. Over the years, several black speakers from other countries have addressed a joint meeting of Congress. Notable examples are Nelson Mandela in 1990 and 1994 and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2006.

By the Numbers: State of the Union

Records: Although Woodrow Wilson holds the record for most speeches delivered before Congress with 26, Franklin Roosevelt holds the record for the most State of the Union/annual message addresses with 12. Ten were in person, and two were in writing -- one of those he read over the radio from the White House as a "fireside chat."

Speechless: Two presidents never prepared any type of State of the Union or annual message: William Henry Harrison and James Garfield. Harrison died after only 32 days in office; Garfield after only 199 days.

CNN Explains: The State of the Union
CNN Explains: The State of the Union


    CNN Explains: The State of the Union


CNN Explains: The State of the Union 02:23
Obama to make State of the Union case
Obama to make State of the Union case


    Obama to make State of the Union case


Obama to make State of the Union case 01:44
State of your union
State of your union


    State of your union


State of your union 02:20

On the radio: The first of the annual messages broadcast nationally on radio was Calvin Coolidge's speech on December 6, 1923. A year earlier, Warren Harding's annual message was broadcast on radio to a very limited audience, including the first lady, who listened from the White House while recovering from an illness.

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On TV: The first televised State of the Union was delivered by Harry Truman on January 6, 1947.

Prime time: The first prime-time State of the Union was delivered on January 4, 1965, when Lyndon Johnson moved the speech from its traditional midday time slot to the evening to attract a larger television audience.

Online: The first State of the Union to be webcast live on the Internet was George W. Bush's 2002 address.

High-def: The first high-definition TV State of the Union broadcast was Bush's 2004 address.

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Postponed: The first and only postponement of a State of the Union occurred in 1986. Ronald Reagan was scheduled to deliver his address on January 28, 1986 -- the same day the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. Reagan instead addressed the nation from the Oval Office that night on the tragedy and the State of the Union was delayed a week.

The longest: Bill Clinton's 2000 address, which clocked in at 1 hour, 28 minutes and 49 seconds, according to the American Presidency Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Written annual messages were usually very long, with Jimmy Carter, William Howard Taft and Truman submitting the longest.

The shortest: George Washington's 1790 address was only 833 words and is believed to have lasted less than 10 minutes.

Highlights from past addresses

      2013 State of the Union

    • WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 12:  U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol February 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. Facing a divided Congress, Obama focused his speech on new initiatives designed to stimulate the U.S. economy and said, "It?s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth".  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

      Obama lays out vision in address

      The heart of President Barack Obama's speech Tuesday was the same focus that's driven every State of the Union of his presidency.
    • Obama shakes hands with House Speaker John Boehner before delivering the address.

      Obama keeps up pressure on GOP

      President Barack Obama launched three days of campaign-style speeches with a visit to a manufacturing plant that he said epitomized his proposals for job creation.
    • President Barack Obama is greeted before his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, February 12.


      CNN asked viewers to post a #tweetoftheunion on Twitter summarizing Obama's State of the Union speech.
    • 5 things we learned

      As with any State of the Union address, President Barack Obama had several audiences and there were multiple aims for the White House.
    • sotu2013 gop response rubio entire_00124817.jpg

      GOP's Rubio rips Obama

      Claiming Barack Obama thinks a "free enterprise economy" is "the cause of our problems" -- not, as he sees it, the solution -- Sen. Marco Rubio argued that the president's proposals would hurt middle class citizens more than help them.
    •  	SPANISH FORK, UT - NOVEMBER 24: A car makes it's way up U.S. Highway 6 as several 2.1 mega watt wind powered turbines owned by Edison Mission Energy, sit a the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon November 24, 2008 in Spanish Fork, Utah. Each turbine is 300 feet tall, with three 150 foot blades. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Land and Minerals Management at the Department of the Interior, Michael D. Olsen, said the potential for production of wind energy on public lands in the West is 'tremendous,' with the alternative energy source already accounting for the fastest growing energy sector in the U.S. Last year the U.S. saw a 46 percent increase in wind capacity and $9 billion in new investments, he said. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

      Wind energy breezes into the record books

      President Barack Obama talked up alternative energy. Not only did he tout the solar and natural gas industries' recent gains, he also talked up the amount of wind energy that's now fueling the country.
    • sot nixon 1974 dkg sotu_00001914.jpg

      8 memorable moments

      From the Great Society to the Axis of Evil, here are historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's top State of the Union moments.
    • First Lady Michelle Obama, center, is recognized by the audience and special guests surrounding her before President Barack Obama's 2013 SOTU. Front row, left to right: Sgt. Sheena Adams, Nathaniel and Cleopatra Pendelton, Michelle Obama, Menchu de Luna Sanchez and Jill Biden. Second row, left to right: Governor John Kitzhaber, Deb Carey, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Amanda McMillan, and Lieutenant Brian Murphy.

      State of the Union firsts

      Earlier presidents delivered a written message to be read to Congress before the tradition became at TV event.