Every July 4, Americans cheer at parades, scarf down hot dogs, and best of all, watch fireworks. But have you ever wondered, Why the pyrotechnics? Or, Why do we celebrate on July 4? When it comes to cold, hard 4th of July facts — information about why the holiday exists and its historic significance — even the most patriotic of people tend to be a little more in the dark.
For example, how much do you actually know about America’s declaration of independence? Even though it’s been celebrated for nearly 244 years, the history and traditions of Independence Day are often forgotten and sometimes totally unknown. While hot dogs, fireworks, and 4th of July desserts can often be more exciting on paper than American history, there is a lot of valuable information to learn from the beginnings of the United States as we know it today.
While no one will deny that having a slew of fun 4th of July activities to enjoy is a great way to ring in the holiday with loved ones during the coveted summertime, it’s also worth reflecting on the deeper, historical meaning of the day. Having the full picture of how the country came to be is the best way to not only celebrate the United States, but improve up on it, too. Whether you’re in search of some fun facts to add to your own mental library or you’re hoping to teach your kids about the 4th of July, here are a couple dozen facts to get you started. After all, no one says that fireworks and learning about history can’t go hand-in-hand.
JOHN ADAMS THOUGHT JULY 2 WOULD BE INDEPENDENCE DAY.
Even though the written Declaration of Independence was dated and approved on July 4, the National Archives notes that the Second Continental Congress voted for independence from Great Britain on July 2, 1776. In fact, the finalized copy of the document wasn’t signed by Congress members until a month later on August 2, 1776.
Furthermore, in a letter to his wife Abigail, John Adams predicted July 2 would mark the day of American’s independence, but July 4 ended up becoming the official day of celebration.
JOHN ADAMS MAY HAVE BEEN THE FIRST TO SUGGEST FIREWORKS.
Some people think the idea of marking major events with fireworks originated with Founding Father John Adams. In a letter to his wife and political advisor, Abigail, he suggested that “illuminations” be part of the future Independence Day celebrations, the first of which was held in 1777.
However, fireworks had already been popular for centuries. King Henry VII’s wedding in 1486 included them, and Queen Elizabeth I, whose reign began in 1558, appointed a “Fire Master of England” to organize shows. Here’s to keeping spectacular traditions alive!
THE USE OF FIREWORKS ON JULY 4 DATES BACK TO 1777.
The tradition of setting off fireworks on Independence Day began on the holiday’s first anniversary in 1777. On July 5, 1777, the Pennsylvania Evening Post reported that, “there was a grand exhibition of fireworks (which began and concluded with thirteen rockets) on the Commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated” the night of July 4. That same night, the Sons of Liberty set off fireworks over Boston Common.
NEWS OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE STARTED RIOTS.
In his book Thomas Jefferson, author David Saville Muzzey, PhD wrote that news of the Declaration of Independence caused colonist to riotagainst King George III. On the night of July 4, citizens of Philadelphia ripped King George III’s coat of arms from the State House door and threw it into a bonfire. In the Bowling Green section of Manhattan on July 9, military personnel and colonists tore down a statue of King George III and melted it into musket balls. In Savannah, citizens even held a fake funeral for the King when the news finally reached them in August.
ONE WORLD TRADE CENTER WAS DESIGNED TO PAY TRIBUTE TO AMERICAN HISTORY’S INDEPENDENCE.
One World Trade Center in New York City is remarkable and meaningful to the United States of America for a variety of reasons. However, you might not know that its most outstanding feature (its height) was designed to pay tribute to the year that America received its independence from Great Britain. The tower is exactly 1,776 feet tall to represent the year 1776.
THE ‘STAR SPANGLED BANNER’ BECAME THE NATIONAL ANTHEM 117 YEARS AFTER IT WAS WRITTEN.
It’s hard to get through an entire 4th of July party or parade without hearing the “Star Spangled Banner” at least once or twice. As Better Homes & Gardens points out, despite being written during the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key’s famous song didn’t become the National Anthem until 1931, 88 years after Key had already passed away.
Another surprising fact: The song was originally referred to as “Defence of Fort M’Henry,” as History.com explains. Has a bit of a different ring to it, doesn’t it?
JULY 4TH WASN’T A FEDERAL HOLIDAY UNTIL 1870.
Nearly 100 years after Massachusetts made July 4 an official state celebration,Congress declared Independence Day an unpaid federal holiday as part of a bill to officially recognize several holidays. In 1941, the 4th of July finally became a paid holiday for federal employees.
THE WHITE HOUSE DIDN’T HAVE A 4TH OF JULY PARTY UNTIL 1801.
The 4th of July might seem like the holiday that the White House would celebrate before any other, but it didn’t actually host an official Independence Day party until 1801, as Better Homes & Gardens points out. President Thomas Jefferson was in office at the time.
FREDERICK DOUGLASS CHALLENGED THE IDEA OF INDEPENDENCE DAY.
On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass deemed Independence Day “a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.” But after the war ended, the Atlanticreports that America’s four million former slaves transformed July 4 into a predominately Black celebration in the states of the former Confederacy. After a white mob broke up a Republican rally on July 4, 1875, the exclusively Black celebrations met increasing opposition from white Southerners and eventually petered out all together by the end of the 19th century.
NOT EVERYONE IN AMERICA WAS FREE ON THE 4TH OF JULY.
Many people tend to discuss America’s freedom (from Great Britain) when they discuss the 4th of July; it’s commonly referred to as Independence Day, after all. But that discussion frequently fails to acknowledge that not everyone in America was free as of that date. Enslaved Black people in America were not granted their freedom until June 19, 1865, following the Civil War. Today, this date is celebrated as Juneteenth.
If you’re wondering now about the Emancipation Proclamation, which occurred in 1862, it’s worth noting that this only freed enslaved people on paper. In actuality, it took several more years for all Black people in America to be free from slavery.
THE COUNTRY’S OLDEST 4TH OF JULY PARADE IS IN RHODE ISLAND.
The oldest 4th of July parade in the nation is celebrated in the town of Bristol, Rhode Island each year. It’s been happening since 1785. The town even has an official 4th of July website, which posts updates about the celebration. As the site states, “The official and historic Celebration, Patriotic Exercises, was established in 1785 by Rev. Henry Wight of the First Congregational Church and Veteran of the Revolutionary War. The Celebration officially starts with Flag Day on June 14.”
GEORGE WASHINGTON CELEBRATED THE DAY DURING WAR.
During the Revolutionary War, George Washington commemorated the July 4 date by issuing double the usual rations of rum to each soldier in the Continental Army, according to History.com. This was in 1778, two years before any state would make the day an official holiday.
IN NEW ENGLAND, PEOPLE EAT SALMON ON THE 4TH OF JULY.
As an article on Mental Floss points out, a little-known tradition is that of eating salmon on Independence Day — well, if you are from New England, anyway.
“The tradition of eating salmon on the Fourth of July essentially began in New England as a coincidence. During the middle of the summer, salmon was abundant in rivers throughout the region, so it was a common sight on tables at the time,” author Jay Serafino writes on MentalFloss.com. “The dish eventually got lumped into the Fourth and has stayed that way ever since, even with the decline of Atlantic salmon.”
MASSACHUSETTS WAS THE FIRST TO MAKE INDEPENDENCE DAY A HOLIDAY.
On July 3, 1781, Massachusetts legislature called for an official state celebration to recognize “the anniversary of the independence of the United States of America,” making it the first state to recognize the 4th of July as an official holiday.
ONLY ONE US PRESIDENT WAS BORN ON THE 4TH OF JULY.
While there have been a whopping three presidents to pass away on the 4th of July (more on that later), there has only been one president ever to be born on the American holiday: Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge was born July 4, 1872 in Plymouth Notch, Vermont.
THREE OF THE U.S. PRESIDENTS HAVE DIED ON JULY 4.
On July 4, 1826, 50 years after the Declaration of Independence was finalized, former U.S. presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams reportedly died just hours apart. Exactly five years later, James Monroe reportedly became the third U.S. president to die on the 4th of July.
PRESIDENT ZACHARY TAYLOR DIED AFTER A 4TH OF JULY PARTY.
Though President Zachary Taylor didn’t die on Independence Day like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Monroe, he did die as a result of a 4th of July party. According to University of Virginia’s Miller Center, Taylor reportedly contracted food-borne cholera after eating spoiled cherries on July 4, 1850 and died five days later.
A TIME CAPSULE WAS BURIED BENEATH THE MASSACHUSETTS STATE HOUSE ON JULY 4, 1795.
On the 20th anniversary of Independence Day, Founding Fathers Paul Revere and Samuel Adams laid the cornerstone for the Massachusetts State House in Boston. Revere and Adams also decided to bury a copper time capsulebeneath the cornerstone, according to the History Channel, and it was finally unburied by state officials in 2014. The time capsule’s contents included newspapers, coins, a silver plate, and a copper medal engraved with George Washington’s image.
THE LIBERTY BELL HASN’T BEEN RUNG SINCE 1846.
US History notes that every year on July 4, the Liberty Bell is symbolically tapped 13 times by children who are descendants of Declaration signers, honoring the original 13 states. Unfortunately, the bell cannot be rung, as it was deemed too fragile after a crack appeared on George Washington’s birthday in 1846, which is the last time it was rung.
A HOLIDAY WAS CREATED TO RIVAL INDEPENDENCE DAY IN 1915.
During his 4th of July keynote address at Boston’s Faneuil Hall in 1915, future Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis announced the first Americanization Day in an effort to celebrate immigration rather than restrict it, as many Americans wished to do. During his speech, Brandeis explained how Americanization Day movement would unify new and old Americans, but sadly, the holiday didn’t stick.
By Corinne Sullivan