One of the best parts about summer is undoubtedly the Fourth of July. Citizens all across the United States make the holiday into a weekend-long affair, filled with festivals, cookouts, barbecues, and plenty of fireworks. Rarely do we take the time to look back at the facts behind anything historic, but these surprising details will make you appreciate Independence Day even more! Did you know that July 4th isn’t even supposed to be the day we celebrate?
Only Two People Signed The Declaration On July 4th
There’s a reason that John Hancock’s signature is the most prominent one on the Declaration of Independence. He and secretary Charles Thomson were the only two people who actually signed the document on July 4th, 1776.
On July 19th, Congress ordered the Declaration to be engrossed on parchment. Delegates of Congress gathered on August 2nd to sign the official engrossed version. The 56 signatures are arranged by the original 13 colonies from north to south.
Two Of The Original 56 Signers Both Died On July 4th
Two of the 56 delegates who signed the Declaration of Independence would end up becoming Presidents of the United States themselves: Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Coincidentally, they would both end up dying on the same day: July 4, 1826.
Thomas Jefferson died that day at the age of 82 at Monticello. Just five hours later, John Adams would meet the same fate at the age of 90. The irony the date is quite eerie.
July 4th Might Not Have Been The Date Of Independence
Founding Father John Adams allegedly didn’t want July 4th to be the fateful day of our nation’s birth. He believed July 2nd should have been named America’s Independence Day since that was the day that the Continental Congress voted for independence.
However, the Declaration of Independence wasn’t approved until two days later and the rest, as they say, is history. You’ll want to copy George Washington after you discover how he celebrated the Fourth of July.
The First Fourth Of July Celebrations Included Mock Funerals
After the Declaration of Independence was officially adopted on July 4th, 1776, newly liberated Americans had plenty to celebrate. That first summer, people celebrated their newfound independence from Britain by holding mock funerals for King George III.
Before 1776, these same people would actually celebrate the King’s birthday with bonfires, speeches, and bell ringing. Soon they transitioned into pretending he was dead to symbolize the triumph of liberty. Can you imagine still celebrating this way?
The Largest 4th Of July Fireworks Show Is In The Big Apple
New York City is home to the largest Independence Day fireworks celebration in the nation. The Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks Show launches more than 40,000 shells, which range in size from one to ten inches in diameter and can weigh up to 35 pounds each.
The fireworks launch from six barges in the water, though the exact location of the show changes from time to time. The first-ever Macy’s fireworks show was on July 1, 1958, and celebrated the store’s 100th anniversary. They’ve since moved it to July 4th.
They Wouldn’t Celebrate July 4th For Another 100 Years
Even though the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4th, 1776, almost a whole century would pass before that day would be recognized as an official holiday in the United States.
Known as Independence Day, July 4th became an official holiday in 1870 when Congress made it an unpaid holiday for federal employees. It would take at least another 60 years or so before Congress changed their minds and decided to pay their employees during the holiday.
Thomas Jefferson Threw The First Party At The White House
The White House didn’t throw a Fourth of July celebration until 1801, over 20 years after declaring independence from England. When he was in office, Jefferson opened up the White House and invited diplomats, civil and military officers, and even Cherokee chiefs to celebrate America’s independence.
The President’s Park became a site for food, drink, tents, booths, and crowds of people. You probably wouldn’t be able to get that close to the White House today, though.
The Liberty Bell Gets Tapped Gently On July 4th
The Liberty Bell wasn’t rung on July 4th, 1776. It didn’t do the honors until four days later on July 8th, during the first public reading of the Declaration. Now, every July 4th at precisely 2 p.m., the Liberty Bell is gently tapped 13 times in honor of the original 13 colonies.
It is only tapped, of course, to avoid expanding the bell’s notorious crack, which is said to have occurred on Washington’s birthday in February of 1946.
George Washington Was Already Celebrating July 4th With Booze
Though it wasn’t an official holiday until the 19th century, July 4th was still celebrated by many. George Washington, for instance, ordered a double ration of rum for his troops in preparation for July 4th in 1778.
Not only was he the first president but he was also probably the first of many to get a little buzz going on our nation’s birthday. George also had a different color scheme in mind for the holiday, as you’ll find out soon.
Rhode Islanders Have Been Celebrating July 4th The Longest
The citizens of Bristol, Rhode Island began celebrating Independence Day as early as 1785. Their annual 4th of July Parade is noted as the oldest continuous Independence Day celebration in American history and has made Bristol “America’s most patriotic town.”
The festivities start on Flag Day, June 14th. From then a series of festivals, concerts, and other community events are held in the weeks leading up to the main event on July 4th. It’s not just a one-day celebration in Bristol.
Red, White, And Blue Were Not The Official 4th Of July Colors
Yes, red, white, and blue are all the colors on the American flag, but back in the 19th century, these colors weren’t readily available in paper and fabrics. Instead, people wore green in celebration of Independence Day.
Historians say that George Washington started the tradition of having people wear greenery in their hats and using it to decorate buildings. But soon, the American flag took over. You’ll never guess what they ate in lieu of hot dogs back then!
Now July 4th Is Usually Celebrated With Fireworks
Independence Day celebrations have become significantly less macabre in the present day since now Americans usually celebrate with great displays of fireworks and the waving of flags.
Americans sure do love their fireworks, which is why in 2011 $15.8 million worth of fireworks were exported from the U.S., mostly to Australia. Still, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $232.5 million worth of fireworks the U.S. imported from China that year. Imagine being on a ship with that many explosives!
Early Independence Day Celebrations Called For Turtle Soup
Hot dogs weren’t a thing back in 1776, but early Americans still celebrated the 4th of July with a special meal. The main course of this meal was turtle soup, which back in those days was considered a summertime delicacy.
Over time, however, people became less interested in eating turtles as concerns over preserving the species grew. Eventually, people transitioned into having pig roasts for the 4th of July which sparked the tradition of having cookouts and barbecues. Soon you’ll see that the National Anthem used to be an ode to something else…
Hot Dogs Are A 4th Of July Staple For Most Americans
Every year, Americans are expected to consume at least 150 million hot dogs for Independence Day celebrations. If you line up that many hot dogs, it could stretch from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles at least five times!
American households spend an estimated $7.2 million on food for the 4th of July as more than 74 million Americans barbecue for the holiday. This includes a beer tab of almost $342 million. 750 million pounds of chicken are also consumed.
People Chow Down On Hot Dogs To See Who Is The Most Patriotic
Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island began as a Fourth of July tradition back in 1916. It apparently started to settle an argument over who was the most patriotic. Today, the contest is held every Independence Day to see who can scarf down the most hot dogs (with buns!) in ten minutes.
As of 2018, California resident Joey Chestnut is the defending champion of the contest, having consumed 72 hot dogs in 2017. In 2007 more than 50,000 people came out to watch the off-the-wall contest.
The National Anthem Was Originally A Drinking Song
Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics to the Star-Spangled Banner as a poem based on his observations following the invasion of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812.
Apparently, Key had a very particular melody stuck in his head when he wrote the National Anthem. That melody originates from an English song called “to Anacreon in Heaven,” which is a song in praise of wine. Independence Day may be an American holiday but soon you’ll see why certain countries recognize it too.
Everyone Who Signed The Declaration Was Pretty Much Middle-Aged
At the time that it was created, the people who signed of the Declaration of Independence were already approaching their golden years. The average age of the signees was around 45 years old. The oldest person to sign it was Benjamin Franklin, who was already 70 by 1776.
Thomas Lynch Jr. of South Carolina was the youngest, estimated to be around 26 or 27 at the time. Thomas Jefferson, who is credited with having penned most of the Declaration, was 33.
American Independence Day Is Celebrated In Other Countries, Too
Even though the Fourth of July is America’s Independence Day, there are some countries that recognize this day as well. Countries such as Denmark, Portugal, Sweden, and Norway celebrate on this day because many of their citizens have decided to call America home as well.
Other countries have found inspiration in the Declaration of Independence. France, Greece, Poland, Russia, and many South American counties have referred to the Declaration when fighting for their own freedoms.
The Awkward History Of July 4th In The Philippines
In 1898 the Philippines was one of three island nations sold to the U.S. for $20 million, after which the U.S. invaded it and claimed it as a territory. On July 4th, 1902, the U.S. celebrated Independence Day by taking away the independence of another country.
Of course, people back at home weren’t comfortable with that idea, but it would take almost 50 years for the U.S. to give the Philippines their freedom. Still, July 4th in the Philippines is known as Philippine Republic Day or Filipino-American Friendship Day.
The Current Flag Was Designed By A High-Schooler
In 1958, Alaska and Hawaii were nearing statehood, so an Ohio history teacher asked her students to design a flag that recognized the last two states. Robert G. Heft, who was 16 at the time, designed a flag with alternating rows of five and six stars but only got a B-minus.
Heft decided to try to change that grade by sending the design to then-President Eisenhower, who liked it so much it was adopted as the new flag. Though there are reports of thousands of people who came up with the same design, Heft’s was the only one seen by the president at that time.
Thousands Of People Are Injured By Fireworks Each Year
For most Americans, the 4th of July would be nothing without the fireworks. But when you combine excited patriots, alcohol, and explosives, it’s no surprise that things can wrong. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are an average 230 serious fireworks-related injuries near and on the 4th of July.
Sadly, some fireworks accidents turn out to be fatal. In 2014, nine people passed away from eight different fireworks-related incidents. Be safe out there, folks!
Men Are More Likely Than Women To Be Injured By Fireworks
Speaking of fireworks, men are more likely than women to be injured by them. In fact, men account for 70 percent of all firework injuries in the United States. When it comes to firework injuries, men and women between 25 and 44 years old are the most frequently injured users, following by individuals between 20 and 24.
Sadly, each year nearly 3,000 children are injured from fireworks. This is largely due to many parents who feel sparklers are not as dangerous as other fireworks, but as you’ll read, this isn’t the case!
Sparklers Are The Leading Cause of Firework-Related Injuries!
Sparklers are favorite fireworks for the 4th of July because they’re inexpensive and don’t “shoot” in any direction like other fireworks. For this reason, parents tend to consider sparklers a safe alternative and let their small children hold them. Since sparklers aren’t considered a firework, they are illegal in any state.
Surprisingly, sparklers are the leading cause of fireworks-related injuries.“Just a momentary touch of a sparkler can cause a shirt to catch fire causing torso burns, facial burns,” stated Mike Figolah, the past President of Illinois Fire Safety Alliance. “If the wind is high or if the child runs, the fire flames faster.”
The Real Celebration Date Was 1777
Earlier we touched on how the Declaration of Independence got signed in 1776. That means that’s the year everyone began celebrating, right? That is not the whole truth.
A year later, Philidelphia made it official when they adjourned Congress. They celebrated with bells, bonfires, and the essential fireworks. Soon, it started to spread across other towns. The whole nation became more adapted to the tradition after the end of the War of 1812 with Great Britain.
How Many Presidents Were Born On The 4th?
How many presidents do you think were born on the 4th of July? Before you guess, imagine that happening. Whichever day you realize that you want to be president, you’d have at least one reason why. You were born on America’s day!
People who were born on the 4th include be Malia Obama, Neil Simon, and George Steinbrenner. The one and only president that was born on this day was none other than Calvin Coolidge.
Presidential 4th Deaths
Now that you know who was born on this particular day, how’s about a guess at which presidents passed away? Sadly, more than one president has died on this day.
The first is James Monroe. The other two deaths are nothing more than a coincidence. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both had their lives ended on the 4th of July. The strange thing is that the two of them died on the 50th anniversary of Independence Day.
Bye-Bye Post Office
A 4th of July celebration is the same without the spectacular fireworks. The food has to be there too, but the lights and sounds of the fireworks complete the day when night falls.
Miners from Swan Colorado tried to prove a point back in 1884. When a post office had no supply of fireworks, the miners made their own. They decided to blow up the post office. A decision they may have later regretted, but at that moment they were probably fine.
Thank The Politicians For BBQ
We know, you can’t get enough of the BBQ on the 4th. The juicy meats, delicious corn on the cob, and the thirst-quenching beverages are just amazing. A tradition that stems from the West Indies, politicians incorporated the idea in the 18th and 19th centuries.
They did it help receive the federal recognition that wanted for the 4th of July. As it turns out, it turned out to be a tradition that stuck with us until today.
It Should Have Been A Turkey
After everything became decided and the bald eagle was the choice as the symbol of the nation, Ben Franklin was livid. It bothered him so much that he wrote a letter to his daughter addressing how upset he was about the decision.
“…too lazy to fish for himself, he watched the labor of the fishing hawk,” Franklin wrote. He finished the letter with, “Turkey… [is a] true original Native of America… bird of Courage.” It sounds like Franklin loved turkey.
Independence Day Eve
We’ve heard of Christmas Eve, but has Independence Day Eve ever popped up in conversation? These days, the day before the 4th of July means food preparation and sample fireworks setting the alarms off.
The night before used to be the main attraction. New England towns spent time building pyramids on July 3. When night fell, they lit the monuments to bring in the celebration. This was popular in the 19th and 20th century while some still practice it today in New England.
The Official 4th Of July City George A. Berlinghof designed this Classical Revival courthouse in 1907. It has an impressive square, and the seat of Seward has very nice friendly atmosphere.” align=”alignnone” id=”attachment_133384″ width=”1000″]
It is always wise to never underestimate the small ones. The small fighters, the small prizes, and in this case, the small cities. Seward, Nebraska has held a 4th of July party in the same town square since 1868.
111 years after their first celebration, Congress appointed Seward as “America’s Official Fourth of July City-Small Town USA. The town only has a population of 6,000, but on the fourth, that number jumps to over 40,000 easily. That’s where you go to bring in the holiday properly.
The Older The Better
People have to evolve into the person they were meant to be. Greatness takes time, and that’s something the founding fathers had plenty of. You’d be shocked to learn the average age of those who signed the Declaration of Independence.
Benjamin Franklin was the eldest of the group, signing the document at age 70. His old age must have boosted the average because the mean of the group was 45 years-old. Edward Rutledge was the youngest at 26.
The Declaration Of Independence Was Drafted On A Laptop
Obviously, the Declaration of Independence was drafted well before the modern day computer was invented. However, Thomas Jefferson did draft the document on a “laptop.”
This device was a simple writing desk that could be unfolded to sit on someone’s lap while they wrote. The device has since become famous because of Jefferson’s ability to utilize it when writing one of the most famous documents in United States history. You can see an example of the “laptop” on this page.
The Pursuit Of Property?
Are you pursuing happiness? Perhaps you should thank Thomas Jefferson. When drafting the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson originally thought Americans would want to pursue “property.”
Before the final draft was signed, Jefferson changed the wording to the “pursuit of happiness.” While one of the goals was more tangible, it didn’t fit with the narrative that our founding fathers were concerned with accomplishing and it was eventually changed. This is a good reminder that words matter.
Yankee Doodle Isn’t A 4th Of July Anthem
In the last 100 years the song “Yankee Doodle” has become a somewhat unexpected anthem of the holiday. What might surprise many Americans is that the song was actually created to mock Americas.
British military officers sand the song in an attempt to mock the “unorganized” and “buckskin-wearing” Yankees they were fighting against. The winners re-write history and the Yankee Doodle song soon became a big hit in America many years after it was used to mock Americans.
Most Expensive Flag Sold At Auction
According to the folks at Guinness World Records, the most expensive flag to be sold at auction is a 1776 Revolutionary War battle flag. The anonymous buyer purchased the piece of history for $12,336,000 in 2006.
Guinness reports that the expensive flag is “the earliest surviving American flag of any kind with a field of 13 red and white stripes.” It was shipped to England in 1779 and stayed there until a descendant of its original owner decided to sell it.
The Betsy Ross Flag
We mentioned earlier that the current US flag was designed by a high schooler in Ohio. But many of us associate the American Flag with the name Betsy Ross. Who was Betsy Ross, and did she really invent the first US flag?
Elizabeth Griscom was born in Philadelphia in 1752. She later served as an apprentice to an upholsterer and became adept at sewing. Legend has it that Ross was approached by George Washington in 1776 to create a new version of the flag (a special committee had already sketched one). She accepted and the “Betsy Ross flag” was crafted, complete with five-pointed stars instead of the six-pointed ones the committee had chosen. But did any of this really happen? Keep reading to learn what historians think.
Did Betsy Ross Design The First US Flag?
When asked by Washington and the Congressional committee to sew a new flag for the country, Ross is supposed to have said “I do not know, but I will try.” Unfortunately, though, there’s not any hard evidence that any of this took place. For starters, no one had heard this tale until 100 years later, when her grandson began telling the story.
There are compelling arguments that Ross did indeed craft the nation’s first flag, including the fact that she had been commissioned to make other flags. In fact, in 1777 she was hired by the Pennsylvania State Navy Board to make a number of flags. This is one of history’s mysteries that we might never solve.
Celebrities Who Got Married On The Fourth Of July
Well, that’s one way to celebrate! Several notable celebrity couples have tied the knot on July 4th over the years. It could have to do with the fact that many people consider summer the ideal time to stage a wedding.
The list includes Billy Joel and Alexis Roderick (2015) David and Victoria Beckham (1999), Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne (1982), Tom Hardy and Charlotte Riley (2014), Jim Skrip and Vanesssa Williams (2015). You might notice that only a couple on this list are American!
July 4th Is An Incredibly Dangerous Day
We’ve already mentioned fireworks and sparklers and just how damaging they can be. But July 4th is actually a dangerous holiday for other reasons. According to The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an average of 118.4 people die on US roads every Independence Day.
And the average daily number of motorcycle deaths doubles every year on the Fourth (from 12.1 to 25.8). It’s great to get out there and have fun, but please be careful as you celebrate — especially on the roads.