Did You Know That? Interesting Fourth of July Facts

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By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

The Fourth of July makes us think of a lot of things: Barbeques. Parades. Fireworks. Lots of red, white and blue. Will Smith’s movie “Independence Day.”

Oh yeah, and the freedom that our founding fathers declared to the world 242 years ago.

While the date July 4, 1776, is ingrained in most of our memories, here are some cool facts you may not know about the holiday:

A boy wears American flag garb on a float in a Fourth of July parade in Vale Oregon in 1941. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

A boy wears American flag garb on a float in a Fourth of July parade in Vale, Oregon, in 1941. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

  • Unofficially, the United States’ Independence Day is July 2 — when the Second Continental Congress made the unanimous decision to break from England. However, the actual Declaration of Independence wasn’t approved and adopted until July 4, when the Liberty Bell was rung in Philadelphia. The document also didn’t become official until Aug. 2, 1776, when most congressional delegates finally signed it.
  • It’s often thought that July 4 kicked off the fight for independence, but the Revolutionary War actually began more than a year before that on April 19, 1775, when the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. That was one day after the legendary ride of Paul Revere.
  • John Adams and Thomas Jefferson — both signers of the Declaration of Independence who later became president — died on July 4, 1826, within hours of each other.
  • On July 4, 1776, there were an estimated 2.5 million people living in America. On July 2, 2018, there were about 328 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Census Bureau stats also show that $296.2 million worth of fireworks — a huge part of Independence Day celebrations — were imported to the U.S. from China in 2016. That same year, $5.4 million worth of American flags were imported; $5.3 million of them came from China.

A History of Celebration

Americans today avidly celebrate Independence Day, but it took a while to build up to modern-day festivities.

A Fourth of July parade in Watertown, Wisconsin, in 1941. Photo by photographer John Vachon, courtesy of Library of Congress

A Fourth of July parade in Watertown, Wisconsin, in 1941. Photo by photographer John Vachon, courtesy of Library of Congress

The first anniversary drew fireworks, a 13-shot cannon salute and spontaneous jubilee in Philadelphia, but it wasn’t until the War of 1812 that observing Independence Day became common.  Back then, the day was often used to coincide with large public events, such as the groundbreaking of the Erie Canal in 1817 and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in 1828.

Americans eventually began celebrating the Fourth of July with parades, flag-waving and fireworks – all things that Adams would have likely approved. According to a celebration letter he wrote to his wife on July 3, 1776, Independence Day “ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade … bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”

By the 1870s, July 4 was one of America’s most celebrated holidays. On June 28, 1870, Congress passed a law making it an unpaid federal holiday. It took 64 more years for it to become a paid one.

Fanfare aside, the Fourth of July is very important. On that day 239 years ago, 56 patriots pledged their lives and honor to defend America’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – a sentiment our current troops still live by.  As we celebrate our nation’s birth, remember to honor the men and women who fight for those liberties, and strive to be worthy of their huge sacrifices.

Happy Independence Day, everyone! How do you plan to celebrate?

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