President Grant and the First State Dinner

Presidential History Blog

King David Kalakaua of the Sandwich Islands.

The first sovereign of a foreign country to be hosted at a White House State Dinner was the King of the Sandwich Islands – in 1874.

State Dinners

From the beginning of the United States as a nation, elegant dining was an essential practice. A little upstart country with even smaller claims to “culture” needed to prove itself equal (or almost equal) to the great countries of Europe, with centuries of history and tradition.

This does not mean that the US was backward or inhospitable. George and Martha Washington were wealthy Virginians, to whom elegance, taste and “southern hospitality” was natural. Their “official” presidential house on Cherry Street in New York City, albeit rented, was chosen specifically because its ballroom could accommodate a hundred people.

The White House State Dining Room, perhaps around the 1870s.

John and Abigail Adams were considered gracious hosts…

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