On Friday, September 25, the President and the First Lady will welcome China’s President Xi Jinping as the guest of honor to a White House State Dinner. Earlier that morning, the White House and thousands of guests will greet President Jinping at the Arrival Ceremony on the South Lawn.
In the nineteenth century, the term “State Dinner” was used to denote any affair that honored the President’s Cabinet, Congress, or other dignitaries. However, President Ulysses S. Grant changed the meaning of the term when he welcomed King David Kalakua of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1874. Now, State Dinners are grand affairs hosted by the President to welcome a visiting head of state.
A State Dinner requires at minimum, six months of preparation. From the guest list and invitations, to the menus and seating arrangements, all require the careful attention of the First Lady, State Department, and White House Social Secretary.
Here’s a brief history of White House State Dinners:
June 8, 1939: President Franklin D. Roosevelt invited England’s King George VI to the United States marking the first time a British monarch set foot on American soil. The meticulously planned State Dinner was the beginning of a strong political alliance between the U.S. and Great Britain.
June 12, 1964: President Lyndon B. Johnson and First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson hosted the first State Dinner outdoors in the White House Rose Garden for Chancellor Ludwig Erhard of West Germany.
July 7, 1976: In celebration of the 200th anniversary of the American Revolution, President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty Ford hosted a tented State Dinner on the White House South Lawn for the distinguished guests of honor: Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
March 26, 1979: Within the first month of his administration, President Carter aided the end to a 30-year-long state of war between Egypt and Israel with the historic signing of the Camp David Accords. In celebration, President Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter held a State Dinner for Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt.
December 8, 1987: President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan hosted a State Dinner for General Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev of the Soviet Union. The President and Mr. Gorbachev toasted the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, symbolizing a future of diplomatic relations.
October 4, 1994: President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton hosted a State Dinner for Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa. Earlier that day, President Mandela received one of the largest crowds in the history of state arrival ceremonies.
January 19, 2011: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a State Dinner in honor of the President of China, Hu Jintao, during his final trip to Washington as the Chinese leader.
Sandra Shim, Michael Lomio, and Julia Laurence are interns in the Office of Digital Strategy.