The 4th of July is right around the corner! What better way to celebrate America’s birthday than with a barbecue, pool party, sparklers, and…a history lesson? You might be saying to yourself, “Learning on the 4th of July, who wants to do that?” But, there’s lots to know about the history of the United States. We’ve provided some fun facts and noteworthy nuggets as well as some awesome family trip ideas that are full of Independence Day-related history!
Did you know…
- The Declaration of Independence, contrary to popular belief, was not actually signed on July 4, 1776! That date is celebrated because the document was officially finalized, dated, and adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4. There is some speculation that two people may have signed it that day–Charles Thompson and (yep, you guessed it) John Hancock. Others reportedly signed on August 2.
- A total of 56 men signed the Declaration of Independence. The youngest was 27 years old (Thomas Lynch), the oldest was 70 (Benjamin Franklin).
- Two signers went on to become President of the United States: Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.
- The first Independence Day celebration actually took place on July 8, 1776, in Philadelphia. On that day, Philadelphians were allegedly summoned by the ringing of the Liberty Bell (yes, people actually rang it!) to hear the first reading of the Declaration of Independence.
- Three U.S. presidents died on July 4: James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. In fact, Jefferson and Adams both died on the same day, within hours of each other, in 1826.
- One president was born on July 4: Calvin Coolidge in 1872.
- Every July 4th in Philadelphia, the Liberty Bell is tapped (not rung) 13 times by descendants of Declaration of Independence signers to represent each of the 13 original colonies.
- Massachusetts was the first state to officially recognize July 4th as a holiday. This happened on July 3, 1781.
- Estimated U.S. population in 1776: 2.5 million. Estimated U.S. population in 2019: well over 300 million.
- Two other countries share July 4 as a day of independence. The Philippines celebrate Republic Day, and Rwanda observes Liberation Day.
Time to pile the family into the car and hit the road! There are so many places to see, and so many things to learn. Here are some Independence Day-related destinations that are not only fun…they’re also educational!
Philadelphia, PA. A pretty obvious choice. The City of Brotherly Love is the birthplace of the nation; it just might be the most history-packed city in the entire country! If you’re heading to Philly, make sure to visit Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed. Right next door to Independence Hall is Congress Hall, once home to the U.S. Congress. Nearby is the Museum of the American Revolution, where you can learn about the events that led to the birth of our country. Around the corner you’ll find the Declaration House, the building where Thomas Jefferson devised…yep… the Declaration of Independence! Across the street is the famous Liberty Bell, and you don’t want to miss a chance to see it up close! Of course, there’s a fireworks display by the Delaware River waterfront that’s not to be missed. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Philadelphia is the place to be if you want to be immersed in American history.
Boston, MA. If Philly is the birthplace of the nation, Beantown is the birthplace of the American Revolution and a city steeped in American history. From the Freedom Trail to a reading of the Declaration of Independence, Boston is full of educational tourist destinations. The Battle of Bunker Hill, the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party–so many historical events took place in this city, and there’s a place to learn about each. And if you’re in Boston for the 4th, don’t miss the fireworks celebration and the Boston Pops orchestra along the Charles River.
Washington, DC. Not many better places to celebrate the birth of our country than in the capital of our country. If you want to learn about America, you’re in the right place. Some of the can’t-miss attractions–the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Capitol Building, the White House, the Smithsonian Museums (they’re free!)–are all within walking distance along the National Mall. And speaking of the Mall, there’s a spectacular fireworks show there, illuminating all of the landmarks.
Williamsburg, VA. Not too far from Washington, DC, Williamsburg is famous for its rich colonial history. You’ll be taken back in time to the colonial era, with reenactments, Declaration of Independence readings, and authentic colonial sights and sounds. Plus, there are fireworks (of course) and concerts; and let’s not forget about Busch Gardens amusement park! Not to mention, historical Jamestown and Yorktown are only about 30 minutes away.
Bristol, RI. Where? It’s OK if you’ve never heard of it. But Bristol, Rhode Island is home to the oldest continuous 4th of July celebration in the country, dating back to 1785! An estimated 50,000 people visit this quaint New England town for its parade and other activities. If you’re an outdoors enthusiast, Bristol offers plenty of beaches and parks, wharfs and sailing, as well as ample shopping and dining.
Keystone, SD. The home of Mount Rushmore! Making a trek to South Dakota is quite patriotic…but it may have to wait until next year. Mount Rushmore is under construction this year, but will reopen in 2020 and will put on a fireworks show for the first time in 11 years! And what a show it will be. Mount Rushmore’s fireworks displays were the stuff of legend, and next year everyone will have the opportunity to see them in person, above the impressive and iconic statue carvings of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt.
Tell us about your July 4th activities in the comments below. And…happy birthday, America!