When President Obama welcomes Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the White House on Thursday, the pomp-filled State Dinner will be a far cry from the early days of those affairs.
In the 18th century, when Washington was still a relatively small town with few frills, any dinner honoring someone related to the government might be called a state dinner, as the White House Historical Association explains. State dinners became more formal in the 19th century, as D.C. society expanded, but it wasn’t until 1874 that President Grant became the first to use one to celebrate a foreign monarch. (The guest was, in retrospect, an appropriate one for a state dinner: King David Kalakaua of Hawaii.) After the White House was restored and expanded in 1902, under Teddy Roosevelt, the tradition of hosting foreign dignitaries began in earnest.
As these photos show, more than a century of state dinners has meant changing fashions and changing administrations—but the sense of tradition endures.
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