It’s time to stock up on beer, brats, 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 these 4th of July fun facts 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 stuff our maws with tri-colored pie and shoot fire into the sky? Well, it was two days later that Congress fully accepted the Declaration of Independence.
Or maybe it actually 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 and fireworks. What he didn’t predict, though, was that someday far in 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, Rhode Island, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Philly set the stage for everyone with decadent food, plentiful booze, and lots of fireworks.
That party in Bristol is still going.
The town of Bristol, Rhode Island, 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 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 just get on with it and declare it an official holiday across the country.
Those old-timey guys got drunk for Independence Day too.
Today, the 4th of July is America’s drunkest holiday (with over $1 billion spent on beer every year and over half a million on wine), but the tradition goes back pretty far. Soldiers in the Continental Army were given extra allowances of rum to celebrate Independence Day.
The day might be cursed.
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both critical to the establishment of American independence, died on the same day: July 4th, 1826, exactly 50 years after the first Independence Day. Spooky.
We might not be as patriotic as we think we are.
Over $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 are also imported.
Article originally published June 25, 2018. Last updated July 4, 2018.