Introduction to Every Leader
Being There: Encountering America's Presidents
26th President of the United States, 1901-1909
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Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site
New York
Theodore Roosevelt’s 1901 inauguration from the Nashville, Tennessee News on October 13, 1901
Theodore Roosevelt’s 1901 inauguration from the Nashville, Tennessee News on October 13, 1901
Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site Foundation

On September 14, 1901, Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office as the 26th and youngest president of the United States in the library of Ansley Wilcox’s fine house in Buffalo.  Only 42 years old, he succeeded President William McKinley, who had succumbed to an assassin’s bullet earlier that day.  For Roosevelt, who had hoped to rise to the presidency some day, it was "a dreadful thing to come into the Presidency in this way.”  In typical Roosevelt fashion, however, he continued, “Here is the task, and I have got to do it to the best of my ability." Three years later, he was elected to a full term in his own right.  Roosevelt had a lasting impact on the nation, expanding the powers of the presidency, advocating consumer protection laws and regulation of big business, supporting conservation, and asserting America's authority abroad.

President McKinley was visiting the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo on September 6, 1901, when an assassin shot him twice in the stomach.  By September 10, doctors in Buffalo thought he was recovering.  They encouraged Vice President Roosevelt to reassure the country by continuing with a planned family outing in the Adirondack Mountains.  Before leaving, he gave a copy of his itinerary to his friend Ansley Wilcox, at whose house he had been staying.  Three days later, returning from climbing the highest peak in the Adirondacks, he met a messenger bearing the fateful telegram summoning him to return. A hired wagon carried him 35 miles through the dark night over rough “ordinary wilderness roads” to reach the nearest station.  At dawn, he boarded a special train that took him to Buffalo.  The country had been without a president for about 12 hours when Roosevelt arrived, and everyone was anxious that the inauguration take place as quickly as possible. 

The library where Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office in 1901
The library where Theodore Roosevelt took
the oath of office in 1901.
Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site Foundation

After paying his respects to McKinley’s widow, Roosevelt rushed to the Wilcox house. He had no formal attire with him, but managed to borrow a long frock coat, trousers, waistcoat, four-in-hand tie, and patent leather shoes.  Judge John R. Hazel administered the oath of office in a ceremony that was brief, private, and solemn.  Ansley Wilcox later wrote, “It takes less in the way of ceremony to make a president in this country, than it does to make a King in England or any monarchy, but the significance of the event is no less great.”

Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site
Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site
is fun for the whole family.
Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site Foundation

Buffalo was the eighth largest city in the United States in 1901—a major flour milling center, an important port on Lake Erie, and the western terminus of the Erie Canal.  Dexter P. Rumsey, a wealthy Buffalo manufacturer, purchased a house in 1883 as a wedding gift for his daughter, Mary Grace, and her husband, Ansley Wilcox, a prominent Buffalo lawyer. Originally built in the 1830s as part of a military barracks, the house was not a large one.  Wilcox tripled its size and transformed it into a stately mansion.  A noteworthy change that Wilcox made to the interior was to combine two first-floor parlors to form the large library where Roosevelt later took the oath.

Mary Grace and Ansley Wilcox lived here until their deaths in the 1930s, after which the house changed hands several times. In the 1960s, local citizens raised funds to save the house from possible demolition.  The Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site Foundation, Inc., the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, the Junior League of Erie County, the State of New York, and the National Park Service worked together to restore the house.  It opened to the public on September 14, 1971, the 70th anniversary of Roosevelt’s inauguration.

Plan your visit

The Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site, located at 641 Delaware Ave. in Buffalo, NY, is a unit of the National Park System.  Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos.  The site is open to the public. Tours are available from 9:30am to 3:30pm Monday-Friday and 12:30pm to 3:30pm on weekends. For more information, visit the National Park Service website or call 716-884-0095.

The home is the subject of an online lesson plan, Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site: Birthplace of the Modern Presidency. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page. The Ansley Wilcox house has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.

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