From 1801 (Thomas Jefferson) until 1913 (Woodrow Wilson) the Annual Message was sent to the Congress as a written document. Wilson revived the tradition, begun by George Washington, of delivering the Annual Message in person.
Off and on, since then, Presidents have chosen to deliver a written message. The last time was Ronald Reagan's 1989 message.
Famous firsts include the first radio broadcast by Calvin Coolidge in 1923. The first televised broadcast by Harry Truman in 1947. And, the first evening speech by Lyndon Johnson in 1965.
The first time a President made reference to a guest in the gallery was in 1982 when President Reagan invited, and recognized, Lenny Skutnik whom he had invited to attend.
On January 13, 1983 an Air Florida flight left National Airport in a snowstorm, didn't gain height and crashed into the Potomac River just north of the airport. A flight attendant, Priscilla Tirado, swimming in the freezing water, was too weak to grasp a rope dropped by a rescue helicopter.
Skutnik, a clerk in a U.S. Government office, saw her distress, stepped out of his coat and boots and dove into the Potomac River and pulled Tirado to safety.
He was recognized by President Reagan saying:
"We saw the heroism of one of our young Government employees, Lenny Skutnik, who, when he saw a woman lose her grip on the helicopter line, dived into the water and dragged her to safety."
Since then, Presidents have invited guests to sit in the First Lady's box for political, patriotic or social reasons.
President Obama's speech last night, like almost all which have been delivered in writing or in person before, fulfilled that simple requirement that the President "from time to time give Congress information on the state of the union."
It is a very nice custom, highly anticipated in Washington, DC, totally forgotten within hours of its delivery but links Presidents in an unbroken line back to George Washington.