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10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Fourth of July

Fourth of July hot dogs mustard declaration of independence american flag red, white and blue
Darren McCollester, Hulton Archive, Tyler Barrick and Todd Warshaw/Getty

The legend of America’s birth is only 236 years old. However, in that short amount of time, a number of legends that would normally take centuries to grow and multiply in any other civilization have sprung up. 

The Fourth of July may have been dedicated to celebrate the spirit and sacrifice that helped found the nation’s freedom but no nation’s origins, no matter how young or old, are lacking fantastic stories that sound too good to be true and therefore must be. Here are 10 things you didn’t know about our nation’s birthday.

1. America didn’t declare its independence on the Fourth of July

Declaration of Independence Copy Up for Sale
Chris Hondros, Getty

Perhaps the greatest misconception of this American holiday lies in the name and its equally iconic date. The true “Independence Day” depends on your definition of when such an official declaration was indeed truly official. It’s widely believed that America’s first Continental Congress declared their independence from the British monarchy on July 4th, 1776. However, the official vote actually took place two days before and the “Declaration” was published in the newspapers on July 4th.

2. The Declaration of Independence wasn’t fully signed on the Fourth of July

Declaration of Independence
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It is also often believed that when the vote was made official, everyone signed it on that fateful day, a moment that’s often portrayed in popular paintings. However, it took an entire month to get all 56 delegates together to put their “John Hancock” on the document. In fact, the only person to sign the document on July 4th was also its first signer: John Hancock.

3. John Adams thought ‘the Second of July’ would become Independence Day

John Adams
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

One of the Declaration’s signers and future presidents wrote a famous series of memorable letters to his beloved wife Abigail detailing the events that led to the nation’s founding. The one he sent announcing the Congress’ vote regarding the official Declaration of Independence predicted, “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.”

4. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on the Fourth of July

Thomas Jefferson's 269th Birthday Observed At Jefferson Memorial
Alex Wong, Getty

The publication of the Declaration of Independence may have accidentally made the Fourth of July the official day of independence for America, but the deaths of two of its founders cemented its creation of the date’s designation. US Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams passed away on July 4th. The even more amazing coincidence is that both died on the same day in the same year of 1826 by a difference of five hours with Jefferson passing first at age 82 and Adams at age 90.

5. The Fourth of July was originally celebrated with a lot of greenery instead of red, white and blue

Boston Readies for 4th of July Celebrations
Darren McCollester, Getty

Fourth of July celebrations these days are filled with fireworks, clothes and ornaments covered in red, white and blue. Such colors weren’t widely available for decoration in the shadow of the nation’s birth, especially in the heat of battle during the Revolutionary War. The first few Independence Day celebrations used greenery as decorations instead. They also fired artillery used in battles following the completion of the war for the Fourth of July, but the practice dissipated as the cannons fell apart over time and were slowly replaced with fireworks.

6. No one really knows where the hot dog came from

Martinsville Speedway - Day 3 hot dogs mustard
Tyler Barrick, Getty

Of course, no Independence Day celebration in America can be complete without crowds of hungry people gorging themselves on fatty foods grilled over an open flame. Few are more synonymous than the hot dog, a food so traditional that Nathan’s Famous of New York holds a yearly contest to see how many a group of competitors can stuff down their gullet.

The origin of the hot dog itself is less well known. That’s because there are several variations of its birth. For instance, a New York Evening Journal cartoonist claimed at the turn of the 20th century that a vendor at a New York Giants game created the tasty treat on the spot and dubbed them “red hots.” He drew a cartoon of the moment as a dachshund sitting in a long bun and used “hot dog” instead because he couldn’t spell dachshund. Another historian claims that a frankfurter vendor in New Jersey nicknamed his sausages “hot dogs” and earned himself the nickname in the process, causing the name to stick to the food for years to come.

7. Apple pie wasn’t created in America

Hillary Clinton Campaigns In Western Iowa apple pie
Eric Thayer, Getty

The phrase “as American as apple pie” has made the dessert treat a staple of any patriotic holiday or celebration. The truth is that apple pie had its roots embedded in other cultures long before America came along and joined the world. All but one breed of apples aren’t indigenous to American soil and came to the States by way of early European settlers who brought the fruit and the original pie recipe with them.

8. Several different chefs claimed to have invented the hamburger

hamburger fries Americans Continue To Consume Beef Products Despite First Case Of Mad Cow Disease In US
Justin Sullivan, Getty

The hamburger, however, is truly an American food from its early recipes to the name itself, but there are many stories that all claim to have invented this tasty July 4th staple. Louis Lassen of New Haven, CT, earned the honor of serving the first ground beef sandwich on white bread after a customer needed a quick and filling hot lunch. Charles Nagreen of Seymour, Wisconsin also earned the honor of being the first to serve the hamburger at a local fair after trying to make his trademark meatballs easier to eat and carry around the fairgrounds. These are just two of a number of national legends trying to take credit for the first burger.

9. The song ‘God Bless America’ stayed in Irving Berlin’s rejection pile for 20 years

Famed American composer Irving Berlin gave his adopted nation one of its greatest and most iconic songs but it didn’t see the light of day because its author didn’t deem it worthy of being sung. Berlin was drafted into the military in the early 1900s and helped to draft a musical comedy for his fellow troops in which he composed the song for its final number — a tune inspired by a phrase his Russian mother would often utter after escaping to America from underneath the iron fist of the bloody Russian empire. However, the composer didn’t think it would fit in the show and kept it in his file for 20 years until singer Kate Smith wanted a patriotic song to sing on the radio as war broke out across Europe. The song became one of the most requested patriotic ditties almost overnight and a staple in American songbooks.

10. The modern flag was designed by a high school student as part of a class project

american flag red white and blue
Todd Warshaw, Getty

The American flag has gone through many alterations as the regions grew and even reached beyond its borders. The modern “50 star flag,” however, has an interesting story behind its creation.

High school student Robert G. Heft of Lancaster, Ohio was assigned to create a new “national banner” for America that would recognize the statehood of Alaska and Hawaii. Heft simply added two extra stars to the flag to give it an even 50 and stitched his own design. His teacher only gave him a “B-minus” for his effort, so he sent his project to President Dwight D. Eisenhower for consideration and a change of grade. Eisenhower chose his design personally and the new flag was officially adopted in 1960. His teacher then gave him an “A” instead.

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