Earth & Conservation

July 4: Independence Day Trivia

Nothing spices up a holiday barbecue or lights up a fireworks show like a history lesson.


This 2016 Independence Day marks the 240th birthday of the United States. Or at least that's the day endorsed by most of the founding fathers as the anniversary of the establishment of the nation. John Adams preferred another day, however. July 2 marks when the Continental Congress voted in Philadelphia to break from the British. Two days later, Congress accepted Thomas Jefferson's declaration.

In this slideshow, learn more about the history of the holiday that will surely make you the life of the party at any barbecue, fireworks show or other freedom fest this holiday weekend.

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In the original Declaration of Independence, Jefferson changed the wording to "the pursuit of happiness" from the original "the pursuit of property." As the story goes, Benjamin Franklin encouraged the change, finding the use of the term "property," favored by George Mason, too limited.

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Photo credit: U.S. National Archives

The actual signing of the Declaration of Independence took place in August, not July. Just two men signed the document on July 4, Charles Thompson and John Hancock.

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Despite the founders understanding full well the political and historic importance of the Declaration of Independence, the original copy of the document was lost. The one signed is the "engrossed" version.

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Photo credit: Architect of the Capital

The words Jefferson authored had a profound impact on the newly minted American citizens in New York City. Upon hearing the declaration, New Yorkers marched in droves down Broadway, then toppling and decapitating a large statue of George III. The metal from the statue was melted down to make bullets for the battles to come.

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Photo credit: Library of Congress

The first Fourth of July fireworks shows took place in Boston and Philadelphia in 1777. Most early celebrations, however, instead made use of cannon or gun fire, as fireworks were more expensive at the time. Early fireworks were also rudimentary and the sort of dazzling, colorful displays couldn't be produced until the 19th century by which time pyrotechnics developed a more sophisticated understanding of the chemistry involved.

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Thomas Jefferson was the first president to host a celebration of Independence Day at the White House in 1801. The third president of the United States threw open the doors of the executive mansion to offer the public bowls of punch and plates of sweets.

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Photo credit: National Science Foundation

Jefferson and Adams, two of the founding fathers of the United States, died within hours of each other on the same day on July 4, 1826. the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the nation. Both men played a central role in the Declaration of Independence, with Jefferson authoring it and Adams advocating its passage.

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Adams and Jefferson may have died of natural causes on the Fourth of July, but president Zachary Taylor may have been killed by Independence Day festivities. To cope with the excessive heat on July 4, 1850, Taylor knocked down glass after glass of ice water. When he returned home, he ate a large quantity of green apples and cherries and chased them with milk. The next day, after complaining of intenstinal cramps, Taylor was examined and received a dianosis of cholera. By July 9, Taylor was dead.

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Photo credit: Library of Congress

Although Americans began celebrating Independence Day the year after Congress approved of Jefferson's document, Congress didn't recognize as a federal holiday until 1870. In 1938, Congress went a step further, reaffirming that the Fourth of July should be a paid holiday for all workers.

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Photo credit: NASA