The history of celebrating America’s birthday

Some of the traditions associated with the Fourth of July did not begin until the 19th century.

By Darian Lane / Special to The Malibu Times

The Fourth of July is one of the most popular holidays in the United States. And it is one that is purely American, celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the birth of this nation. But many of the traditions associated with the Fourth of July took several years to develop.

Although the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, the members of the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia already had voted on July 2 for the American colonies to declare independence from British rule.

“They tweaked the word ‘independence’ for two days, then announced it to the public on the fourth,” said Stewart Davenport, a history professor at Pepperdine University.

Continental Congress member and future President John Adams wrote a prediction in a letter to his wife Abigail about which July day would become the memorable one.

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“The second of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epocha in the history of America,” Adams wrote. “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.”

But the first Independence Day celebration came the next year on July 4, and has continued on that day ever since.

It was not until the early 1800s that the traditions of fairs, parades, speeches and fireworks beca me firmly established as part of American Independence Day culture. Fairs with speeches were the public’s form of entertainment.

“People sat around and listened to speeches like it was television,” said Pepperdine University history professor Loretta Hunicutt.

And in the 1950s, with the suburbanization of the American middle class, a new tradition began with the Fourth of July barbecue.

Following are some interesting facts about the Fourth of July and the traditions associated with it:

€ According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans consume approximately 150 million hot dogs on the Fourth of July.

€ Although Independence Day has been celebrated since the 18th century, it was not declared a legal holiday until 1941.

€ John Adams died on July 4, 1826. A frustrated Adams’ final words on his deathbed were about his longtime political enemy and friend. “Thomas Jefferson still lives,” he said. But what Adams did not know ist that Jefferson had died a few hours earlier.

€ Fireworks, a Fourth of July tradition, were brought to North America by Capt. John Smith in the early 17th century. The original fireworks were black and white. Color was added in the 19th century.

€ A hot dog-eating contest has been held by Nathan’s Famous on Coney Island every Fourth of July since 1916. The competitors have 12 minutes to eat as many hot dogs as they can. Japan’s Takeru “Tsunami” Kobayashi has won the contest every year since 2001. Last year, he ate 49 hotdogs, down from 53.5 in the previous year.

€ Wellesley College professor Katharine Lee Bates wrote the words to the poem, “America the Beautiful” on July 4, 1895. The poem would be turned into a song Samuel A. Ward in 1882.

-Jonathan Friedman contributed to this article.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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