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How did Founding Fathers celebrate 4th of July? How many 4th of July fireworks explode each year? The trues and myths of the Independence Day.
Cookouts, fireworks, and, of course, a chance to wish Uncle Sam a big "happy birthday"—the 4th of July means summer in full swing across the United States and beyond. Such 4th of July festivities are as old as the United States itself.
Waiting for the Fireworks
In 1778, while George Washington celebrated the 4th of July with his troops in Princeton, New Jersey, Benjamin Franklin was in Paris, throwing a party for expat Americans and French elites.
Feting the U.S. was only part of the scene—Franklin also hoped to persuade the French to support the cause of U.S. independence.
Parades, speeches, music, public readings of the Declaration of Independence—those were started in the days after the declaration was adopted and continue today.
In the USA Lights
Fireworks, first authorized by Congress for 4th of July, 1777, are another legacy. The American Pyrotechnics Association (APA) estimates that more than 14,000 fireworks displays light up U.S. skies each 4th of July. APA executive director Julie Heckman said fireworks professionals plan for about 11 months for 1 month of booming business.
Fireworks may be flourishing, but some 4th of July traditions have faded.
Nineteenth-century Independence Days featured noisy artillery salutes, as explosives left over from various wars were fired all day during the 4th of July. The practice faded as cannons aged and fell into disrepair.
Many time-honored patriotic tales turn out to be more fiction than fact. In anticipation of the Fourth of July, here is a look at some memorable myths from the birth of the United States:
Independence Day is celebrated two days too late.
John Adams, the second U.S. president, correctly foresaw shows, games, sports, buns, bells, and bonfires — but he got the date wrong. The written document wasn't edited and approved until the Fourth of July, and that was the date printers affixed to "broadside" announcements sent out across the land. July 2 was soon forgotten.
In fact, no one actually signed the Declaration of Independence at any time during July 1776. Signing began on August 2, with John Hancock's famously bold scribble, and wasn't completed until late November.
The Declaration of Independence Holds Secret Messages
Some revolutionary myths are of modern origin. There's no invisible message or map on the back of the Declaration of Independence, as depicted in the film National Treasure. But the National Archives admits there is something written on the back of the priceless document.
A line on the bottom of the parchment reads "Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776." Why? The large document would have been rolled for travel and storage during the 18th century, so the reverse-side writing likely acted as a label to identify the document while it was rolled up.
John Adams Died Thinking of Thomas Jefferson
Incredibly both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson did die on the Fourth of July, but there's no real evidence to suggest that Adams's final thoughts were with Jefferson or that he uttered "Jefferson survives" on his deathbed.
Even if he had, he'd have been wrong, as Jefferson beat him in death by several hours. The day does seem inauspicious for presidents, however. The less celebrated James Monroe also died on July 4, in 1831.
America United Against the British
The Revolutionary War also pitted Americans against Americans in large numbers. Perhaps 15 to 20 percent of all Americans were loyalists who supported the crown, according to the U.K. National Army Museum. Many others tried to stay out of the fight altogether.
Records from the period are sketchy at best, but an estimated 50,000 Americans served as British soldiers, militia at one time or another during the conflict, a significant force pitted against a Continental Army that may have included a hundred thousand regular soldiers over the course of the war.
Betsy Ross Made the First American Flag
There is no proof that Betsy Ross played any part in designing or sewing the American flag that made its debut in 1777. In fact, the story of the famous seamstress didn't circulate until it was raised by her grandson nearly a century after the fact, and the only evidence is testimony to this family tradition.
To be fair, there's also no conclusive evidence that Ross didn't sew the flag, and there are several reasons why she just might have done so. The Betsy Ross House on Philadelphia's Arch Street (where Ross may or may not have actually lived) tells the whole tale and leaves visitors to draw their own conclusions.