WASHINGTON -- Ronald Reagan took the oath of office Tuesday, pledged an 'era of national renewal' and pronounced his first day as the nation's 40th president 'perfect' because the 52 American hostages were released.
Less than half an hour after Reagan was sworn in, Jimmy Carter's around-the-clock efforts that climaxed his term in office finally resulted in release of the hostages by Iran on their 444th day in captivity.
Making the announcement that was denied Carter because of last-minute delays, Reagan told the guests at a congressional inaugural luncheon that, 'The planes bearing our prisoners left Iranian air space.'
Later, starting a round of gala celebrations with his wife, Nancy, at an inaugural ball at a Washington hotel, Reagan announced to cheers and applause that the Americans were in Algiers.
The new president took the microphone to say: 'I think you would like to have a little news that I have just learned -- the planes have landed in Algiers.' He started to talk about the freed hostages, but broke off and said: 'I just won't call them hostages. They're prisoners of war.'
Dressed in white tie, Reagan added that, 'The Christmas tree lights have come on' -- a final request from Carter, who had kept the tree dark as a reminder of the plight of the hostages.
Carter went home to Plains, Ga., as a private citizen for the first time in four years and planned to spend the night there before heading off to West Germany to greet the hostages as Reagan's representative.
Shortly after moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Reagan tried out the Oval Office and pronounced himself satisfied.
'I needed that to make this day perfect,' he said as he sat in the president's chair. 'As I say it makes the whole day perfect now, the fact that all 52 hostages are on their way home.'
The Reagans moved into the White House after watching the inaugural parade from a reviewing stand on their front lawn and prepared for the eight inaugural balls they have pledged to dance at until the small hours of Wednesday morning.
The president and his wife Nancy, wearing a bright red suit, led the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, standing in the open roofed limousine, waving at thousands who lined the street waving plastic American flags passed our earlier by the inaugural committee.
Following the new first family in the parade were Vice President George Bush and his wife Barbara, 8,000 marchers, 31 bands, 10 military units, 475 horses, 24 Alaskan huskies and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
The official transition of power came at 11:57 a.m. -- three minutes before the constitutionally prescribed time. Reagan placed his left hand on his mother's family Bible, and repeated after Chief Justice Warren Burger the simple oath recited by every American president for nearly two centuries.
'I, Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help me God.'
With a firm handshake from Burger and a kiss from wife Nancy, his former leading lady, the Hollywood actor turned politician assumed the powers and burdens of the Oval Office. With his 70th birthday just 17 days away, he is the oldest man to take the oath of office.
His first act was president, in the Capitol after the oath-taking, was to sign an executive order -- a freeze on the hiring of government workers. The order carried out a campaign pledge and launched a conservative administration to lead America through the first part of the 1980s. He also sent to the Senate his Cabinet nominations.
Reagan's 20-minute inaugural address was a firm restatement of his campaign promises to slash taxes, trim government spending, boost the military and re-establish American pre-eminence in the world.
'We must act today in order to preserve tomorrow,' he said. 'And let there be no misunderstanding -- we are going to act beginning today.'
'Let us begin an era of national renewal,' Reagan said. 'Let us renew our determination, our courage, and our strength. Let us renew our faith and our hope. We have every right to dream heroic dreams.'
Capitol police said in excess of 100,000 watched the swearing in ceremony and city police said twice that number lined the parade route. The new administration was greeted by temperatures in the 50s for what the weather bureau described as the warmest January inaugural in history and in marked contrast to the ice and cold of many other inaugurations.
Reagan became the nation's sixth president in 20 years, as assassination, war, crime, a pardon and the economy deprived every chief executive since Dwight Eisenhower of serving a second term.
Reagan made clear in his inaugural address he intended to move quickly against big government, joblessness and inflation.
The speech was brimming, almost bristling, with confidence in the capacity of a Republican administration to end the 'stagflation' that has plagued the nation with soaring prices and chronic unemployment for more than a decade. But it contained no specifics of the new administration's plans either on economic recovery, price stabilization or government retrenchment.
'It is time to reawaken this industiral giant, to get government back within its means, and to lighten our punitive tax burden,' Reagan said. These will be our first priorities, and on these principles, there will be no compromise.'
'Putting America back to work means putting all Americans back to work. Ending inflation means freeing all Americans from the terror of runaway living costs,' Reagan said.
'All must share in the productive work of this 'new beginning,' and all must share in the bounty of a revived economy,' Reagan said.
Even before going into lunch with congressional leaders, Reagan ducked into the president's room just off the Senate chamber to sign the first executive order of his administration.
The order puts a freeze on the hiring of civilian employees by all executive departments and agencies. The order is more symbolic of his pledge to trim government spending than a major change, since Carter had already imposed a hiring freeze.
Then he signed the nominations of all of his cabinet officers.
Reagan's $11 million inaugural, with a record eight balls was the most elaborate and costly ever as scores of entertainers flooded the nation's capital to honor the first actor ever elected president.
Freedom for the hostages brought added joy for Republicans celebrating their return from the depths of the Watergate scandal to control of not only the White House, but the Senate as well.
Reagan's Inauguration Day was one of high drama in the nation's capital as he shared the spotlight with Carter and the hostage crisis that had plagued the outgoing administration for 444 days.
Reagan arose about 7:30 a.m. and had a light breakfast of orange juice, Danish pastry and Sanka. An hour later Carter called him and told him the planes were waiting on the runway in Terhan to bring the hostages home.
It appeared a breakthrough would come at any moment. Television coverage of the inauguration was constantly interrupted by developments in the hostage situation.
At 9:30 a.m. Reagan went to St. John's Episcopal Church across Lafayette Square from the White House for a brief 20-minute service. He emerged to tell reporters there was still no final word on the hostages.
At 10:30 a.m. the Reagans went to the White House where they were greeted by a weary Carter who had spend all night in the Oval Office trying to work out the last minute hitches that had delayed the hostages' release.
After coffee in the Blue Room Carter and Reagan left the WhiteIHouse together for the ride up Pennsylvania to the Capitol. There was still no announcement to be made, though Carter had told Reagan he expected the planes to leave any minute.
The hostages boarded the planes at Terhan airport a half hour before the Carter presidency expired and they flew to freeedom an hour later, with a new president at the nation's helm.
While the hostage crisis plagued Carter throughout his unsuccessful re-election campaign, the nation's slumping economy with high unemployment and high inflation was a more serious cause of defeat.
Reagan swamped the incumbent, carrying all but six states and the District of Columbia. For the one time Democrat turned conservative it climaxed a quest for the presidency that began shortly after he entered the political arena in 1964.
After a quarter century making movies -- the majority of them grade B adventures and comedies -- Reagan began his political career making speeches for Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign.
A group of California businessmen, some of whom now serve in the president's kitchen cabinet, decided he would make a good governor and formed the financial and political base for his 1966 campaign.
His first bid for the White House came in 1968 when he lost the GOP nomination to Richard Nixon. In 1976 he nearly ousted Gerald Ford, narrowly losing the nomination. In 1980, when many thought Reagan too old for the job, he easily whipped a crowded field of candidates in the primaries and waged an agressive campaign that toppled the incumbent president.