15 Strange Facts About the Fourth of July

Historical Fireworks

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Historical Fireworks
Courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

Historical Fireworks

The Fourth of July isn’t simply a day off for grilling and chilling. For many of us it’s a time to reunite with friends and family, and celebrate the history and independence of the United States. And yet, for all of the time spent attending spectacular fireworks shows, festive parades and backyard cookouts, there’s plenty of history, lore, and just plain quirky facts about the Fourth of July that many of us don’t know about. To gain a bit of insight on the holiday and impress your friends and family while you’re celebrating, read on — and please pass the mustard.

The National Anthem Is Sung to the Tune of a British Drinking Song
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The National Anthem Is Sung to the Tune of a British Drinking Song

“The Star-Spangled Banner,” America’s national anthem, has a meandering history. Its lyrics are from the “Defence of Fort M’Henry, an 1814 poem by then-lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key. It was eventually set to a British men’s social club melody, “To Anacreon in Heaven,” and popularized as a noted U.S. patriotic song first recognized for official use by the U.S. Navy in 1889. It was made a national anthem in 1931, and it’s notably tough to sing, as heard in ghastly interpretations by everyone from Roseanne Barr to Fergie.

Turtle Soup Was a Presidential Favorite for the Holiday
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Turtle Soup Was a Presidential Favorite for the Holiday

It may be time to forget the burgers and consider turtle soup as the classic Fourth of July meal, if you believe this legend. It’s said that John Adams slurped the “delicacy” on the night of July 4, 1776 in celebration of American independence from Britain. While it might not be for all tastes these days, it was a popular dish at the time.

Related: 20 Easy, Patriotic Foods to Bring to a Fourth of July Party

Thomas Jefferson
Wikimedia Commons

Multiple Presidents Have Died on the Fourth

No less than three U.S. presidents have died on July 4 — the first two both in 1826. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who each have a signature on the Declaration of Independence, died 50 years from that day. James Munroe also met his maker on July 4, but in 1831.

Louisiana Purchase
Louisiana Purchase by William Morris (CC BY-SA)

America Got Bigger on the Fourth

President Thomas Jefferson (before he died) announced the Louisiana Purchase on July 4, 1803 — a move that doubled the young nation’s size.

Signing of the Declaration of Independence

We’re Really Celebrating Two Days Late

While July 4 is the official celebration of America’s birth, the Founding Fathers (the Continental Congress to be specific) decided to declare independence on July 2, 1776, then formally adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4.

Fireworks Aren’t Particularly All-American
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Fireworks Aren’t Particularly All-American

The chemical formula for fireworks was invented by accident back in the 10th century in China. These days, Americans blow up $1.1 billion in fireworks every year — 99 percent of which are still made in China.

Lighting More Than One Firework at a Time

Fireworks Can Sicken and Maim

It’s often a good idea to leave it to the professionals, especially when it comes to fireworks. According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 53 percent of fireworks injuries are the result of burns, with hands and fingers, not surprisingly, the body parts most injured (31 percent) by fireworks. Still, fireworks can not only frighten birds, but poison them by scattering pollutants in lakes and rivers. People with asthma can also be sickened.

Related: 17 Dangerous Mistakes People Make Around Fire and Fireworks

Philippine Republic Day
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America Isn’t the Only Nation Celebrating

The day dedicated to American independence is also a freedom-themed holiday in other parts of the world. Philippine Republic Day, also known as Filipino-American Friendship Day, is traditionally celebrated July 4, as is Liberation Day in Rwanda and the Northern Mariana Islands, and Independence Day in Abkhazia.

Malia Obama
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It’s a Popular Birthday for Celebrities

Being born on Christmas Day or Halloween always means your birthday taking second billing, but imagine sharing your birthday with America. Former first daughter Malia Obama does, along with U.S. president Calvin Coolidge, advice columnist “Dear Abby” and her twin, Ann Landers, playwright Neil Simon, and many more.

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise Was Almost Born on the Fourth

It would have been remarkable timing if Tom Cruise, who portrayed a paralyzed Vietnam War vet turned political activist in the movie “Born on the Fourth of July,” was born on the Fourth of July. Cruise entered the world on July 3, 1962. So close…

Cook-Outs Aren’t As Cheap As You Think
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Cook-Outs Aren’t As Cheap As You Think

The Fourth of July is hugely popular day for grilling, with 65.5 percent of people saying they were going to partake in a barbeque in 2018, spending $73.35 on average. The most popular item to grill was beef ($803.9 million), which edged out chicken ($371 million) and pork ($217.5 million). 

Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest
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It’s a Time for Record-Breaking Eating Contests

It’s rare for a backyard cook-out guest to eat more than a couple of hot dogs, though $122.9 million is spent on franks for each Fourth. At the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, held at high noon each Fourth of July in Coney Island, New York, hot dogs take center stage. Last year’s winners, men’s winner Joey Chestnut (74 hot dogs in 10 minutes) and women’s winner Miki Sudo (37 hot dogs in 10 minutes, are expected to defend their Mustard Belts. 

West Point Cadets
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It’s A Big Day for Cadets

The Fourth is also one that’s significant to some of America’s notable soldier-academics. Though its roots date back to the end of the 18th century, the United States Military Academy at West Point officially “commenced operations” on July 4, 1802 and has been training its famed cadets ever since.

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

George Washington Received a Special Dedication on the Fourth

George Washington’s face on the iconic Mount Rushmore in South Dakota was dedicated on July 4, 1934 — the carved quartet would be completed in 1939 with the dedication of Theodore Roosevelt.

Walt Whitman
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Walt Whitman Had Reason to Celebrate on the Fourth

The philosophical poet Walt Whitman first published his seminal work, “Leaves of Grass,” on July 4, 1855. According to a note on his dedication, Whitman paid for and did much of the Brooklyn-based typesetting for the first edition himself.