In 1900 the first election took place and the committee selected 29 inductees for the inaugural class. Members of the first group included obvious statesmen George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, along with writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson and inventors such as Samuel F.B Morse and Eli Whitney. The Hall of Fame for Great Americans quickly became a renowned landmark visited and talked about throughout the country. Induction ceremonies and unveilings at the hall garnered attention from prestigious publications such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Well-known individuals like Albert Einstein, Mary Pickford, Herbert Hoover and General Pershing visited the site. Ceremonies became grand and stately affairs, attended by the academic and social elite.
Organizations and individuals passionately supported their candidate through letters, booklets and pamphlets leading to politicized debates over inductees. Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate states, was nominated on numerous occasions without success, while Confederate General Robert E. Lee, with the support of the Daughters of the Confederacy, was voted in by 1900, the Hall’s inaugural year.