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

iStock/Getty Images Plus/nu1983
iStock/Getty Images Plus/nu1983

With 243 years of tradition behind it, the Fourth of July is one of America's most cherished holidays. It's when we celebrate our nation's mythology with a day off, a backyard barbecue, and plenty of fireworks. But with all that history, you'd be forgiven if you didn't know quite everything about July 4. So from the true story behind the signing of the Declaration of Independence, to some staggering hot dog statistics, here are 10 things you might not know about the Fourth of July.

1. The Declaration of Independence wasn't signed on July 4 (or in July at all).

John Trumball's 1819 painting "Declaration of Independence."
John Trumball's 1819 painting "Declaration of Independence."
John Trumbull, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

It might make for an iconic painting, but that famous image of all the Founding Fathers and Continental Congress huddled together, presenting the first draft of the Declaration of Independence for July 4, 1776 signing, isn't quite how things really went down. As famed historian David McCullough wrote, "No such scene, with all the delegates present, ever occurred at Philadelphia."

It's now generally accepted that the Declaration of Independence wasn't signed on the Fourth of July—that's just the day the document was formally dated, finalized, and adopted by the Continental Congress, which had officially voted for independence on July 2 (the day John Adams thought we should celebrate). Early printed copies of the Declaration were signed by John Hancock and secretary Charles Thomson to be given to military officers and various political committees, but the bulk of the other 54 men signed an official engrossed (finalized and in larger print) copy on August 2, with others to follow at a later date. Hancock (boldly) signed his name again on the updated version.

So if you want to sound like a history buff at your family's barbecue this year, point out that we're celebrating the adoption of the Declaration, not the signing of it.

2. The first celebrations weren't much different than today's.

After years of pent-up frustration, the colonies let loose upon hearing the words of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Military personnel and civilians in the Bowling Green section of Manhattan tore down a statue of King George III and later melted it into bullets; the King's coat of arms was used as kindling for a bonfire in Philadelphia; and in Savannah, Georgia, the citizens burnt the King in effigy and held a mock funeral for their royal foe.

Independence Day celebrations began to look a bit more familiar the following year, as the July 18, 1777 issue of the Virginia Gazette describes the July 4 celebration in Philadelphia:

"The evening was closed with the ringing 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. Every thing was conducted with the greatest order and decorum, and the face of joy and gladness was universal."

There were even ships decked out in patriotic colors lining harbors and streamers littering city streets. Once you get past the mock funerals and rioting of 1776, modern Independence Day celebrations have stuck pretty close to the traditions started in 1777.

3. Eating salmon on the Fourth of July is a tradition in New England.

The tradition of eating salmon on the Fourth of July began in New England as kind of a coincidence. It just so happened that during the middle of the summer, salmon was in abundance in rivers throughout the region, so it was a common sight on tables at the time. It eventually got lumped in to the Fourth and has stayed that way ever since, even with the decline of Atlantic salmon.

To serve salmon the traditional New England way, you'll have to pair it with some green peas. And if you're really striving for 18th-century authenticity, enjoy the whole meal with some turtle soup, like John and Abigail Adams supposedly did on the first Fourth of July. (You can still be a patriot without the soup, though.)

4. Massachusetts was the first state to recognize the holiday.

Massachusetts recognized the Fourth of July as an official holiday on July 3, 1781, making it the first state to do so. It wasn't until June 28, 1870 that Congress decided to start designating federal holidays [PDF], with the first four being New Year's Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. This decreed that those days were holidays for federal employees.

However, there was a distinction. The Fourth was a holiday "within the District of Columbia" only. It would take years of new legislation to expand the holiday to all federal employees.

5. The oldest annual Fourth of July Celebration is held in Bristol, Rhode Island.

Eighty-five years before the Fourth of July was even recognized as a federal holiday, one tradition began that continues to this day. Billed as "America's Oldest Fourth of July Celebration," the town of Bristol, Rhode Island, has been doing Independence Day right since 1785.

The festivities began just two years after the Revolutionary War ended, and 2019 will be its 234th entry. Over the years the whole thing has expanded well beyond July 4; the town of 23,000 residents now begins to celebrate the United States on Flag Day, June 14, all the way through to the 2.5-mile July 4 parade. What began as a "patriotic exercise"—meaning church services—has morphed into a cavalcade of parades, live music, food, and other activities.

6. The shortest Fourth of July parade is in Aptos, California.

From the oldest to the shortest, the Fourth of July parade in Aptos, California, is just a hair over half a mile long. Taking up two city blocks, and measuring just .6 miles, this brief bit of patriotism features antique cars, decorated trucks, and plenty of walkers. Afterward, there's a Party in the Park, where folks can enjoy live music, food, and games.

7. There are around 15,000 Independence Day fireworks celebrations every year.

Fireworks burst over New York City.
JEWEL SAMAD / AFP / Getty Images

According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, around 15,000 fireworks displays will take place for the Fourth of July holiday (even if some aren't exactly on July 4). Though pricing varies, most small towns spend anywhere from $8000-$15,000 for a fireworks display, with larger cities going into the millions, like the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular that averages more than $2 million.

8. We'll eat an obscene amount of hot dogs.

Around 150 million, to be more specific—that's how many hot dogs will be consumed by Americans on the Fourth of July. According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, that amount of dogs can stretch from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles more than five times.

In 2018, 74 of those dogs were scarfed down by Joey Chestnut, who won the annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Competition for the eleventh time.

9. And we'll spend billions on food.

Americans will spend big on food and drinks this Fourth. Big to the tune of around $6.7 billion when all is said and done, according to the National Retail Federation. This includes food and other cookout expenses, averaging out to about $73 per person participating in a barbecue, outdoor cookout or picnic.

Then comes the booze. According to the Beer Institute, "more beer is sold on and around the Fourth of July holiday than during any other time throughout the year." Generally, Americans will spend around $1 billion on beer for their Fourth celebrations, and more than $560 million on wine.

10. Three presidents have died, and one was born, on the Fourth of July.

You probably know that both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on July 4, 1826—50 years to the day after the Declaration of Independence was adopted. They're not the only presidents to have died on the Fourth, though; James Monroe—the nation's fifth president—died just a few years later on July 4, 1831.

Though the holiday might seem like it has it out for former presidents, there was one future leader born on Independence Day. The country's 30th Commander-in-Chief, Calvin Coolidge, was born on July 4, 1872.

Oscar Mayer Is Renting Out the Wienermobile on Airbnb For Overnight Stays

Airbnb
Airbnb

Oscar Mayer is about to make all of your hot dog dreams come true. To celebrate National Hot Dog Day (today), the meat-industry titan has listed its legendary Wienermobile on Airbnb for overnight stays. Mark your calendars for July 24, when reservation opportunities will go live throughout the day, with prices starting at $136 per night.

Oscar Mayer Wienermobile on Airbnb
Airbnb

The 27-foot-long locomotive hot dog, parked in Chicago, can accommodate two people and includes a sofa bed, sitting area, and outdoor space with a bathroom and “hot dog picnic zone” where you can lounge in Adirondack chairs while enjoying a savory snack. The 'mobile will also be packed with all the hot dog amenities you didn’t know you needed: Highlights include a mini fridge stocked with hot dogs and Chicago-style fixings, a custom Wienermobile art piece by Chicago artist Laura Kiro, and an Oscar Mayer roller grill that you get to keep forever. And that’s not the only souvenir: each guest will also receive a welcome kit with as-yet-unidentified “hot dog-inspired accessories.”

Other features include air conditioning, free parking, breakfast, a hair dryer, and the essentials: towels, bed sheets, soap, shampoo, and toilet paper.

Interior of Wienermobile on Airbnb
Airbnb

Interior of Wienermobile on Airbnb
Airbnb

The booking dates overlap with Chicago’s famed Grant Park music festival Lollapalooza, which takes place from August 1 through 4. The lineup this year includes Ariana Grande, Childish Gambino, Tame Impala, The Strokes, and Kacey Musgraves, to name a few. What better way to stay nourished and well-rested after a musical marathon than in a cozy, oblong automobile filled with meat?

If you can't book a Wienermobile getaway, you can still celebrate July as National Hot Dog Month by hosting your own hot dog picnic wherever you are (just make sure you know the proper way to plate, dress, serve, and chow down on a plate full of frankfurters).

Check out the full listing on Airbnb.

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The Proper Way to Eat a Hot Dog

martinedoucet/iStock via Getty Images
martinedoucet/iStock via Getty Images

Attention America: you're probably eating hot dogs the wrong way, which is pretty embarrassing when you consider how much you love them.

The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, a part of the American Meat Institute, has an official etiquette guide for hot dog-eating, in order to do the summer staple justice. Surprisingly, many of the rules are intended to prevent people from getting too fancy with their franks.

How to plate your hot dog

No need for fancy garnishes—keep the presentation simple. Sticking with the laid-back theme, be sure to only use plain buns or those with poppy or sesame seeds. Even if they're your favorite, the council's website says "sun-dried tomato buns or basil buns are considered gauche with franks," so you might want to stay away.

How to Dress your hot dog

Dressing your hot dog is also a bigger deal than you might think. First, there's an order to follow. Wet condiments (mustard or chili, for example) go on first, followed by chunky ingredients—if you're putting onions or sauerkraut on your hot dog, this is the time to do it. Next comes cheese. Spices, such as pepper or celery salt, come last.

The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council also has rules about ketchup, much to the dismay of Internet commenters. According to the council, no person over the age of 18 should top their hot dog with ketchup, despite the fact that over half of all Americans use the condiment. Former council president Janet Riley (the so-called "Queen of Wien") is shocked by this: "Ketchup’s popularity was the big surprise, considering our etiquette rules—and ketchup’s notable absence from regional hot dog favorites like the Chicago Dog and the New York Dog."

How to serve your hot dog

According to the Council, always use low-maintenance dishes. Paper plates are preferable, but any everyday dish will do. Want to eat your hot dog off fine china? Sorry, that's a faux pas. Finally, if you're serving cocktail wieners, use colored toothpicks instead of plain ones. Cocktail forks are in poor taste, according to Riley.

How to eat your hot dog

Because hot dogs are such casual foods, you should never use a fork and knife. Instead, always use your hands for any hot dog on a bun. While you're at it, make sure you take no more than five bites to finish your frank (although seven is acceptable for foot-longs). Make sure you eat every part of the hot dog, including any leftover parts of the bun.

Finally, make sure your beverage of choice doesn't outshine the food. Wine shouldn't be paired with hot dogs. Instead, opt for beer, soda, lemonade, iced tea … really, anything that doesn't clash with your non-ketchup topping.

How to clean up after your hot dog meal

If you find yourself covered in mustard (or whatever else you put on your hot dog that isn't ketchup), there's also a way to clean up. Use paper napkins to clean your face—cloth napkins are never okay—but make sure that you lick off any condiments that you find on your fingers.

Finally, if you attend a hot dog barbecue, you don't send a thank you note. While a thoughtful gesture, the council notes that it "would not be in keeping with the unpretentious nature of hot dogs."

Want more advice from the council? The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council put together this handy video, featuring the Queen of Wien herself, boasting all the rules, some patriotic music, and a couple great food puns.

This story originally ran in 2015.

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