I’m a sucker for the 4th of July. I love the smell of charcoal and ground beef, the patriotic strains of Bruce Springsteen in the air, the confirmation that the summer season is in full swoon. I also get giddy like a child at things that go boom, so I’m obviously all about the fireworks. But there’s more to the holiday than just backyard cookouts and fireworks-related emergency room visits. This is also a day of historical observance, marking both the birth of these United States and the countless other events that have revolved around the date, from the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 to the latest blockbuster film to make its debut on the holiday weekend. Without any regard for thematic relevance or order of importance, here are 21 things you might not know about the 4th of July. Feel free to share at your barbecue. Just try not to sound like a know-it-all.
1. Happy July 2nd!
The Declaration of Independence was actually approved by the Second Continental Congress on July 2nd, 1776. Swept up in the excitement of the moment, John Adams, future second president of the United States, declared the 2nd a date that would live in celebration. In a letter to his wife Abigail, Adams predicted that “The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.” He was right about the pomp, but wrong about the date. A revised version of the Declaration was signed on July 4th, so that’s the day for games, guns and illuminations.
2. Senior Statesmen
At 70 years of age, Benjamin Franklin was the oldest signer of the Declaration. Edward Rutledge was the youngest, at a mere 26 years of age. The average age of the Declaration’s signers was 45. If you added together the ages of all 56 signers of the Declaration, you would arrive at a number that has absolutely no significance whatsoever.
3. Lost Copies?
On the night of July 4th, 1776, a printer named John Dunlap of Philadelphia was commissioned to produce the first broadside prints of the Declaration of Independence. An estimated 200 copies were made that night, comprising the first published run of that watershed document. Referred to as the Dunlap Broadside, only 27 are known to exist today, which means some number of these may actually still be at large. Imagine finding that in a trunk in somebody’s attic.
4. How Many Presidents Does It Take…?
You might picture the signing of the Declaration as an event brimming with future presidents. In fact, only two were present for the event. John Adams (#2) and Thomas Jefferson (#3) were the only future presidents to lend their signatures to the document.
5. What Are the Odds?
As the only two future presidents to sign the Declaration, it’s also more than a little strange that Adams and Jefferson both died within hours of each other in 1826…on July 4th. But that’s not all. Just five years later, the nation’s fifth president, James Monroe passed patriotically on July 4th, 1831.
6. Born On the 4th of July
Calvin Coolidge is the only former U.S. president who had the patriotic decency to be born on July 4th, doing so in 1872.
7. Slow on the Uptake
It took 15 years for people to officially start calling July 4th Independence Day (1791), another 80 for Congress to make it an unpaid holiday (1870), and yet another 68 (1938) for the 4th to be officially recognized as a paid holiday vacation. It wasn’t until 1992 that Lee Greenwood plagued the holiday with the hit country song, “God Bless the U.S.A.”
8. Philly Parties First
Though the 4th wasn’t an officially recognized holiday just yet, Philadelphia marked the first anniversary of the Declaration’s signing with a big birthday bash in 1777. On July 8th, the city struck the Liberty Bell and marked the occasion with a parade, a 13-cannon salute, and a fireworks display.
9. Declaration of Emancipation
July 4th also marks a day of independence former slaves in America. In 1799, New York marked the fledgling holiday by emancipating all children of slaves statewide. On July 4th, 1827, New York officially emancipated slaves of every age in the state of New York.
10. Independence From the U.S.
The United States bestowed the symbolic importance of July 4th on the Philippines by signing the Treaty of Manila and consequently granting independence on that date in 1946. As yet a further show of its independence, the Philippines moved its official Independence Day celebration to June 12th starting in 1962.
11. We Stole the Idea of Fireworks
But in fairness, it’s a great idea. On the relative scale, the United States is a pretty young country. Fireworks, on the other hand, are pretty old. People have been blowing stuff up in celebration for centuries, dating back to Chinese New Year celebrations in the 7th Century. America did take to the idea immediately though. Colonists would use fireworks for various modes of celebration even before the emergence of independent states, which made the colorful explosives a natural fit for America’s birthday. Today, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association, more than 14,000 professional fireworks displays will color the night sky this 4th.
12. Detonate With Care
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were nearly 12,000 firework-related injuries reported in 2015. Naturally, there is a spike every year right around the 4th. In fact, I can scarcely remember a year when an NFL player didn’t accidentally blow his own fingers off in an off-season accident. I know you’re not going to listen, but I’m going to say it anyway. Don’t light fireworks this 4th unless you are a trained professional or are working under the guidance of one.
13. Tabor Hits 4 on the 4th
While NFL players are busy blowing off fingers on the 4th, Major League baseballers are breaking records. On July 4th, 1939, the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Athletics met for a doubleheader at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park. Troublesome Red Sox third baseman Jim Tabor made his mark on American history that day. Suspended just the week prior—and at multiple points throughout his carer for a reckless love of the drink—Tabor showed up ready that day (though possibly drunk nonetheless). Tabor hit one homer in the first game and another three in the second. Two of those were grand slams, clubbed in consecutive innings. His 11-RBI Independence Day remains a single-day American League record.
14. Baseball Marathon
The Braves and Mets faced off at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium for a game with a 7:30 PM start time on July 4th, 1985. The game wouldn’t end until well into July 5th. The Mets rookie phenom, Dwight Gooden was set to take the mound but a 90-minute rain delay pushed his start time back to 9PM. What ensued was an insane 19-inning affair in which the Mets topped the Braves 16-13. The contest—which included a home run by a relief pitcher with a .074 lifetime batting average, a 19th-inning save by Mets starter Ron Darling, and persistent rumors that Braves pitcher Roger McDowell ate 7 cheeseburgers over the durationt—stands as one of the zaniest games played in baseball history. It ended at 3:55 AM. The stadium dutifully deployed its 4th of July fireworks thereafter, at 4 in the morning.
15. The Luckiest Man On the Face of the Earth…
And because there’s always baseball on the 4th, the date has been marked by any number of additional important moments in history. Among them was Nolan Ryan’s 3000 strikeout (1980), Phil Neikro’s 3000th strikeout (1983) and Dave Righetti’s no-hitter, also in 1983. It was also on July 4th, 1939—the very same day Tabor was crushing balls just down that turnpike—that a tearful Lou Gehrig gave his oft-mythologized farewell to Yankee fans.
16. As Long as We’re on the Turnpike
Half a million people will go to Coney Island to watch gastroenteritis in the making. Legend has it that the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest began when four immigrants met at the Coney Island stand in 1916 and argued over which of them was most patriotic. Naturally, the only rational was to resolve the dispute was to propose an eating contest. With but the exception of 1941 and 1971—in which the contest was cancelled in protest of war and civil unrest respectively—the eating contest has been held every year on the 4th of July. The event likely accounts for a pretty good chunk of the roughly 155 million hot dogs that Americans will collectively ingest on the 4th.
17. Bill Pullman vs. Tobey Maguire
Another big time 4th of July tradition? Going to the movies. You’d probably assume that the biggest grossing Independence Day weekend movie would be something topical like, say, Independence Day, a documentary about that one 4th of July when squid-people descended from space and exploded the White House. Actually, though, that 1996 blockbuster is only 3rd all-time, having grossed $100.5 million in its opening weekend. Spider-Man 2 netted the most, earning $125.5 million during the 2004 holiday weekend.
18. Hopefully Not a Tradition…
Though we doubt it was intended as an act of patriotism, the Zodiac Killer claimed his very first known victims on Lake Herman Road in Califironia on July 4th, 1968. The Zodiac Killer would go on to claim an estimated 20 to 28 lives and remains at large to date.
19. It’s The Thought That Counts
The Statue of Liberty was a giant birthday gift, bestowed upon America from its closest ally, France, in 1884. The only problem with the gift? It was presented in Paris. It took a full calendar year to disassemble the enormous statue, ship it across the Atlantic, and reassemble it on Liberty Island off the coast of New York/New Jersey. The 4th of 2009 also marked a reopening of the statue’s crown after eight years of closure.
20. Freedom Tower
The Statue isn’t the only giant structure that marks the 4th as an important date. The cornerstone for Freedom Tower in New York was symbolically placed on July 4th 2004 “To honor and remember those who lost their lives on September 11th, 2001 and as a tribute to the enduring spirit of freedom.”
21. Population Explosion
There were 2.5 million people living in the U.S. during the first Independence Day in 1776. By 2013, the U.S. Census would place that number at 316+ million. That’s a whole lot of people setting off explosives on one day. Be safe out there.
And of course, Happy Birthday America!