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Fourth of July 2021: History, Trivia, and Celebrations

Learn a little about this important holiday that celebrate America's independence from England, including trivia, history of fireworks, recipes, and more!

Happy Birthday, America! Independence Day is always celebrated on July 4th each year. In 2021, America will celebrate its 246th birthday as independence was achieved from Great Britain following the Revolutionary War. The founding fathers signed this declaration on July 4, 1776.

Upcoming Independence Day Dates

YearDay and Date
2021Sunday, July 4
2022Monday, July 4
2023Tuesday, July 4

Little Known Fourth of July Facts

The Real Independence Day?

The Declaration of Independence was announced on July 4th, though the formal signing didn’t occur until August 2nd, and the colonies actually voted to accept it on July 2nd. So you may wonder – what day is the real Independence Day?

John Adams, who first proposed the idea of declaring independence from England, wrote a famous letter to his wife, Abigail, about how he believed July 2nd would be a day that was remembered and celebrated in America for years to come. Apparently everyone else remembered otherwise…

Old Glory

Did you know that there have been 28 versions of the U.S flag to date, and that the most recent one, designed after Alaska and Hawaii joined the union, was the result of a school project? Robert Heft was 17 when he came up with the flag design in 1958. He originally got a B- on the project, but when his pattern won the national competition to become the next flag, his teacher raised his grade to an A.

A Patriotic Death?

Thomas Jefferson, left; John Adams, center; James Monroe, right, all died on a July 4th.

Three American presidents have died on the fourth of July. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the same day, in 1826, just hours apart. They had been rivals in everything, even about who would live longest. Adams’ last words were about his long-time foe: “Thomas Jefferson lives!” In fact, Jefferson had died just five hours earlier, but Adams hadn’t gotten the message. The two actually became friends in their later years, with extensive correspondence. Their letters to each other are published in several books.

James Monroe is the third president to die on July 4th, but he died in 1831.

Why Do We Set Off Fireworks On the Fourth of July?

Fireworks are a staple of many Independence Day celebrations. Of course, things will look a bit different in 2020, but we all remember how on July 4th, enormous, colorful displays would light up the night sky all across the United States—everything from private displays to world-famous pyrotechnics shows such as the one held in Boston. But how did fireworks become a great American Independence Day tradition?

Fireworks Origins

The modern displays that we know today originally came from China. The very earliest forms came from a discovery almost 2,000 years ago when people would heat bamboo stalks until they blackened and exploded under the pressure of heated air inside them. These would have been the original “firecrackers,” but true gunpowder-fueled explosives didn’t come till a bit later—sometime between 600 A.D. and 900 A.D. when alchemists in China started filling stalks of bamboo with the explosive substance.

Rockets Red Glare?

The first “rockets” were originally used as military weapons, starting with an improvement to the fire arrow that included affixing small packets of gunpowder to the arrow. These were produced by the Chinese in the 12th century, but they were very unpredictable and dangerous to use. It’s from the developments of gunpowder explosives and primitive rockets that the colorful explosives we know today came from. Over the years, alchemists started adding new ingredients to the mix, like iron shavings and steel dust, to give fireworks their sparkle.

Fireworks Come to Europe

As centuries passed, Chinese fireworks became popular elsewhere in the world, too. The Silk Road, which allowed for trade between Europe and the East, saw the secrets of gunpowder and fireworks making their way to Europe in the 13th century. During the Renaissance, Europeans used them at various celebrations. Anne Boleyn’s coronation as Queen of England in 1533 featured a large fireworks display, and in particular, Peter the Great and King Louis XIV were big fans of fireworks, noted for using them in a variety of European celebrations.

Read: How To Ease Your Dog’s Fear of Fireworks

Fireworks—An American Tradition

Our current fascination with Fourth of July fireworks has its roots deep in American history. Even before the final version of the Declaration of Independence was signed, John Adams envisioned great celebrations in the future, ones that would include fireworks. In fact, in the same letter, referenced above that he wrote on July 3, 1776—just the day before the Continental Congress adopted the final draft of the Declaration of Independence—he said that festivities should include:

Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forever more.

Those illuminations that he referred to? You guessed it… fireworks!

It is also said, that fireworks displays were used as morale boosters for soldiers in the Revolutionary War. At the time however, fireworks were the same type of explosives used in war and were called rockets, not fireworks. And so colonists celebrated the fourth even before they knew if they would win the war. Fireworks were further popularized in the late 1700s by politicians that had displays at their speeches, and they became a firmly established tradition by the 1800s.

The First Fireworks Display

Although July 4, 1776, didn’t see any fireworks, in 1777, the first Fourth of July fireworks were lit over Philadelphia’s night sky. The Pennsylvania Evening Post wrote this of the celebration: The evening was closed with the ring of bells, and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks (which began and concluded with thirteen rockets) on the Commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated.

Boston also held a display in 1777, and from there, the tradition took off. By 1783, the public could purchase all kinds of fireworks for their own Fourth of July celebrations.

From those early celebrations, displays have grown and become extraordinary feats of pyrotechnics. These days, estimates from the American Pyrotechnics Association say that more than 14,000 fireworks display glitter in America’s night sky on Independence Day.

Fireworks may have started as a Chinese invention 2,000 years ago, but they’ve been a part of American traditions since the very founding of this nation. As technology improves and pyrotechnics technicians work hard to put on bigger and more beautiful displays each year, this is one American tradition that will just keep growing!

Watch Boston’s fireworks display!

Top 10 Hottest July 4ths

It’s the all-American symbol of summer: Independence Day. It conjures images of warm weather and picnics, cookouts, and fireworks. But the sizzling southwestern climate in California, Arizona, and Nevada can make outdoor entertainment on the holiday unbearable and even dangerous.

The hottest Independence Days have all come from seven cities within the Southwest region and all have topped over 100°F. In that kind of heat, traditional fireworks and barbecues can become a severe fire hazard. Too much time spent outside can also cause a range of heat-related illnesses. 688 people per year in the U.S. die from heat-related deaths, according to a 2006 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report. The CDC also estimated that from 1979-1999, extreme heat killed 8,015 people in the U.S, which is more than the deaths during that period from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined.

Top 10 Hottest July 4ths

1. 2007: Needles, CA 121ºF
2. 2001: Palm Springs, CA 116ºF
3. 2007: Phoenix, AZ 116ºF
4. 2017: Needles, CA 117ºF
5. 2007: Thermal, CA 114ºF
6. 2007: Daggett, CA 114ºF
7. 2007: Las Vegas, NV 114ºF
8. 2017: Palm Springs, CA 115ºF
9. 2003: Thermal, CA 114ºF
10. 2005: Blythe, CA 113ºF

Needles, CA
Best known for its desert climate and the fact that it is home to 10.8 miles of the famous Route 66 highway, the small town of Needles is also famous for extreme heat. The toasty town holds two spots on the record temperatures list for July 4th: #1 in 2007 when the town reached 121°F and #4 in 2017 at a slightly cooler 117°F.

Palm Springs, CA
Palm Springs takes the #2 and #8 spots on the list, with 116°F in 2001 and 117°F in 2017. Things don’t seem to be cooling down either; on Friday, July 6 (2018), Palm Springs is expected to hit 117°F.

Phoenix, AZ
Phoenix reached number three on the list in 2007, when the temperature on Independence Day was a sweltering 116°F. Though Phoenix was able to go on with its fireworks on the Fourth as planned, nearby Arizona communities of Flagstaff and Williams had to cancel their shows due to fire danger from the extremely hot and arid conditions, and the city of Tempe had 20 people suffer from heat-related illnesses after their outdoor fireworks festival. Not far away is Yuma, which hit a high of 111°F in 2017.

Thermal, CA
Named appropriately, temperatures in Thermal climbed to 114°F on Independence Day in both 2003 and 2007 giving them the 5th and 9th spot on the top ten list. But as a town with an average annual temperature of 88.8°F and approximately 143 days that are over 95°F (about 30 percent of the entire year), Thermal has adjusted to hot weather. And while it may not break a record this year for the Fourth of July, temperatures are expected to top out at 108°F.

Daggett, CA
The tiny town of Daggett, population 200, roasted on the Fourth of July 2007 at 114°F. But the heat isn’t necessarily bad news for Daggett. Just east of the town is the Southern California Edison Company Solar II Generating Plant, which uses mirrors and the desert heat to create electricity. Southern California Edison Company is one of the largest providers of electricity in Southern California and currently generates about 17 percent of its energy through renewable sources like the sun.

Las Vegas, NV
The Fourth was so hot in 2007 (reaching 114°F) that Las Vegas canceled its famous “Red, White and Boom” fireworks show on the strip in favor of “Red, White and Splash” where Clarke County neighborhood pools and water parks were open for free for several hours so that families could enjoy the day without risk of heat exhaustion or fire damage. Campers in the area were also not allowed campfires or fireworks due to the danger of forest fires.

Blythe, CA
With an average annual temperature of 88°F and approximately 144 days over 95°F each year, Blythe, a small town located at the California-Arizona border, gets the #10 spot on the Fourth of July list. The town is a popular winter destination for tourists, as it is often warm enough for buildings to need air-conditioning in the middle of winter. In 2007, it reached a fierce 116°F on Independence Day.

New York, NY
In 1949, the temperature soared to an oppressive 102°F in Central Park.

The longest standing high temperature record set goes to Denver, CO holding the daily max temperature record of 102 set on July 4, 1874!

Check out these top 10 ways to beat the heat…

Fourth of July Weather Lore

What is “Knee High by the Fourth of July” All About?

Here at Farmers’ Almanac, we share a lot of folklore and old-timey wisdom, which is very popular with our readers. Whether it’s forecasting the weather or advice about gardening in your back yard, there are countless old “adages” that have been passed down from the generations, many still in circulation today. One you may have heard is “Knee High by the Fourth of July.” But what does it mean?

Corn Farmers’ Measuring Stick

“Knee High by the Fourth of July” is an old saying once used by farmers to measure the success of their corn crops. Years ago, if corn had grown knee high by Independence Day, it was a good sign and meant they could count on high yields for the year. Today, however, that sentiment is a bit different. Due to the advancements in agriculture, growing techniques, and disease and pest control, corn farmers can expect plants to reach 8 feet by midsummer, if growing conditions are good, according to the Iowa Corn Growers Association. Now, knee-high doesn’t quite measure up

That being the case, you may want to look to the Oklahoma musical instead. In the classic lyrics from the “Oh What A Beautiful Morning,” a corn stalks’ growing success is measured a bit differently:

There’s a bright, golden haze on the meadow.
The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye
And it looks like it’s climbing clear up to the sky.

Whether your corn is knee-high or as high as an elephant’s eye by July 4th, we want to know! Tell us in the comments below.

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