The Spectator

Barometer | 19 January 2017

Also in our Barometer column: longest and shortest addresses, the cost of Trump’s wall, and advertising in Piccadilly

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Starting cold

Why is US Presidential Inauguration Day always on 20 January?

— The date was moved from 4 March in the 20th amendment to the US constitution, passed on 23 January 1933, but it is hard to find any significance to the date. The change was made in an attempt to reduce the lame-duck period of an outgoing president, though it did increase the risk of a repeat of what happened in 1841 when William Henry Harrison was sworn in. Choosing not to wear a coat, hat or gloves, he made the longest inaugural speech of any president, at two hours. Three weeks later he was reported to be suffering from a cold, which developed into pneumonia and then pleurisy, leading to his death on 4 April — although some doubt the connection with inauguration day.

— On 4 March 1841, Washington was 48°F (9°C) and wet. The forecast for this year’s inauguration day was 42°F with rain.

Men of few and many words

Which presidents have made the longest and shortest inaugural addresses?


Number of words

William H. Harrison, 1841


William Howard Taft, 1909


James Knox Polk, 1845


James Monroe, 1821


Benjamin Harrison, 1889



Number of words

George Washington, 1793


Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1945


Abraham Lincoln, 1865


Zachary Taylor, 1849


Theodore Roosevelt, 1905


The cost of the wall

Donald Trump reiterated his plan to build a wall along the US-Mexican border. Some estimates of its cost:

Donald Trump, 2015


Congressional Republicans, 2017


Marc Rosenblum, Migration Policy Institute, 2015


Washington Post, 2016


Todd Sternfield, CEO, Superior Concrete Products of Texas, 2017


The lights of Piccadilly

The six remaining illuminated advertising screens at Piccadilly Circus were turned off so they can be replaced with a single screen.

— The first illuminated sign is usually said to have been ‘Drink Perrier’, hung outside the Café Monico in 1908. But a 3ft ‘Mellin’s Foods’ sign had appeared four years earlier.

— The current signs bring in £4m a year, according to Campaign. But the new single LED screen will be worth £30m.