July 4th. You know the date, but do you know the history behind it? Over the course of the 242 years of United States’ existence, there has been a significant amount of myth and fiction attached to Independence Day. What’s the story behind July 4th? We’ve compiled a list of a dozen 4th of July ‘fun facts’ that you should know.
1. The Story of Stars and Stripes
American flags have changed along with the country. Each time a new state had been admitted to the union, the layout of the stars changed. During the first few years of the nation’s existence, it didn't have one official flag. Rather a number of similar looking red, white, and blue designs were used, including the circular star design attributed to Betsy Ross. Since 1818, July 4th has been used as the date on which the American flag is “updated”. The current 50-star flag was designed by an Ohio high school student and has been the official flag of the country since July 4, 1960.
2. Presidential Births and Deaths
Was it a coincidence? Three of USA’s early presidents died on the 4th of July. Founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on the 50th anniversary of the nation’s founding, July 4th, 1826. Jefferson and Adams were also the only two men to have signed the Declaration of Independence and later become presidents. Ironically enough, five years later, president James Monroe also died on the same day in 1831. Destiny ran a different course in 1872 when Calvin Coolidge was born on July 4th. To date, Coolidge is the only president to be born on the Independence Day of United States.
3. Two Days Late
While July 4th has been forever enshrined as the independence day of United States, American people are actually celebrating two days late. The Second Continental Congress met on July 2nd to formally approve the new nation’s independence. The Congress approved the Declaration of Independence two days later, on the 4th of July. John Adams thought that July 2nd would become a memorable day of celebration. Adams even wrote to his wife, “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epoch, in the History of America.”
4. Who Signed the Declaration on the 4th of July?
There is considerable debate among historians as to who, if anyone, signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4th. Some scholars believe the document was signed by Congress on August 2nd, as that was the day when a clean copy was finally acquired by Timothy Matlack, who was the assistant to the secretary of Congress. In the years following 1776, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson claimed that Congress did, in fact, sign it on the 4th of July – but again some of the signatures were from men who were not present on that particular date. One story claims that the most famous signature of all time, John Hancock’s, was the only one to be added to the Declaration on July 4th, 1776.
5. When Did the Fireworks Start?
It isn’t the 4th of July without a grand fireworks show. Accounts from the Pennsylvania Evening Post in 1777 indicate that the city celebrated with gun salutes and fireworks. Philadelphians enjoyed bonfires and other events to commemorate our nation’s first official birthday. Cannon salutes were also popular, and the first Independence Day celebration included the firing of 13 cannons, reflective of our first 13 states.
6. The Dog Days of Summer
The 4th of July is the biggest day of the year for hot dogs. More hot dogs are eaten on this day than any other day of the year. Estimates place the number of dogs eaten on this date at 155 million, or enough to stretch across the American nation more than 5 times over. We wonder what percentage of those 155 million hot dogs are consumed during the annual hot dog eating contests usually held over the 4th of July?
7. Uncle Sam Gives You the Day Off
For most American people, the 4th of July is a beautiful summer day off from work, but it wasn't always that way. In fact, in 1870, Congress made Independence Day an official unpaid national holiday. It wasn't until 1938, however, that Congress made the 4th of July an official paid federal holiday.
8. All-American? Not Quite.
Of the 56 men to sign the Declaration of Independence, 8 were born in Britain. That’s far from the only British connection. As for one of the country’s iconic patriotic symbols, the Liberty Bell, was cast in a British foundry. Nonetheless, the Declaration of Independence and the Liberty Bell are eternally associated with July 4th and all things American.
9. Three Cheers for the Red, White, and Green?
Red, white, and blue are synonymous with Independence Day, but that wasn't always the case. Some accounts from the 1700s indicate that green was used for decorations in early celebrations. After all, they didn't have access to the selection of red, white, and blue cups, hats, and tablecloths that fill the stores today.
10. A Bicentennial Minute
USA went all out to celebrate its 200th anniversary in 1976. The U.S. Mint produced special half dollar coins and quarters, a navy of tall ships docked in New York and Boston, and a covered wagon traversed the continent during the Bicentennial Wagon Train Pilgrimage. President Gerald Ford lit a third lantern at Boston’s Old North Church in 1975 as a symbol of the start of America’s third century. Do you remember the Bicentennial Minutes broadcast on television?
Article written by Dattatreya Mandal, July 4th, 2017.