It’s the most patriotic time of the year, which means it’s time to stock up on beer, hot dogs, fireworks and apparel with the American flag plastered all over it because Independence Day is nearly here! Before you fire up the grill and set off those sparklers, bone up on some interesting history with a few Fourth of July fun fantastic facts from themanual.com and howstuffworks.com websites you’ve probably forgotten since your last history class.
It actually happened on July 2
The Continental Congress voted for American independence on July 2, 1776. So why isn’t that the day we shoot fire into the sky? Well, it was two days later that Congress fully accepted the Declaration of Independence.
Or maybe it happened on August 2
Although the Declaration was accepted on July 4, it wasn’t officially signed by every member until nearly a month later, on August 2, 1776. The Declaration itself is dated July 4, though, which is why that became our official Independence Day holiday.
John Adams knew exactly how we were going to celebrate
After the initial vote on July 2, 1776, John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, that the holiday would be celebrated with “parades, bells, bonfires and illuminations.” What he didn’t predict, though, was that someday far into the future, people would continue lighting fireworks at all hours of the night for a full two months after the holiday ends.
The first celebrations took place a year later
While American independence became official in 1776, the first full-fledged Independence Day celebrations took place a year later in 1777. The festivities happened in Bristol, RI, and Philadelphia, PA. Philly set the stage for everyone with decadent food, booze-a-plenty and lots of fireworks.
And gunfire, too
In addition to fireworks, military cannons and live gunfire were a big part of early Fourth of July festivities. It’s important to remember that the United States was at war with Great Britain on and off until 1815, when America finally won the War of 1812. Fourth of July celebrations would have served as military morale-boosters for wearied soldiers and citizens. Ear-splitting cannon blasts and artillery salutes during Fourth of July celebrations continued into the mid-19th century, when leftover weaponry fell into disrepair and concern for public safety won the day, leaving only the fireworks.
That party in Bristol is still going
The town of Bristol, RI, still hosts an annual 4th of July hootenanny to this day. Although the 1777 celebration was a simple 13 gunshot salute, today the festivities (which include concerts, fireworks, contests and more) begin on Flag Day (June 14) and continue all the way through Independence Day, culminating in a patriotic parade.
The White House was a little late to the party
The first White House Independence Day party didn’t happen until 1801.
Massachusetts was a little ahead of the game
Independence Day didn’t become a national holiday all at once. Massachusetts was the first state to declare the date an official holiday in 1781. It took 89 more years for Congress to declare it an official holiday across the country.
One tradition goes back pretty far
Soldiers in the Continental Army were given extra allowances of rum to celebrate Independence Day. Today, the 4th of July is America’s liquored-up holiday with over $1 billion spent on beer every year and over half-a-million on wine.
The day might be cursed
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both critical to the establishment of American independence, died on the same day: July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after the first Independence Day. In 1831, just five years later, James Monroe became the third U.S. president to die on the Fourth of July. Although he didn’t expire on the Fourth of July itself, President Zachary Taylor died on July 9, 1850, after contracting cholera from eating tainted fruit during Independence Day celebrations. Calvin Coolidge is the only U.S. president who was born on the Fourth of July (1872) in tiny Plymouth Notch, Vermont.
We might not be as patriotic as we think we are
More than $307.8 million worth of the fireworks used in our Independence Day celebrations are imported. Over $5 million worth of the flags we fly to celebrate also are imported.
The Stars & Stripes were there for the first Fourth of July
On June 14, 1777, less than a month before the very first Independence Day celebration, the Continental Congress passed a resolution creating America’s first official flag: “Resolved, that the Flag of the thirteen United States shall be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the Union be thirteen stars, white on a blue field, representing a new constellation.”
The good old days at McMillion Park
When I was a youngster the Fourth of July fireworks were celebrated at McMillion Park. Since I lived close, my favorite day was July 5! That’s when we neighborhood kids got an early start to the park to collect all the coins and goodies that fell from peoples’ pockets as they lounged on the ground to watch the fireworks. Most folks sat on blankets because back then there were no aluminum portable folding chairs, just some wooden/canvas contraptions that would embarrass anyone trying to stylishly set one up.