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July 4th: Holiday history, more; Why do we celebrate Independence Day with fireworks?

A C-130J Super Hercules rests on the flightline under a fireworks display at Yokota Air Base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson/Released)

Happy birthday, America!

July 4th – also known as Independence Day – marks the day in 1776 when the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence, signaling the official separation of the 13 original colonies from Great Britain amid the Revolutionary War.

Since that day, July 4, 1776 has been considered America’s “birthday,” making her 246 years old today. The day has been a federal holiday in the U.S. since 1870, though celebrations go back to the 18th century and the American Revolution, according to

Before the revolution, colonists held annual celebrations marking the king’s birthday, festivities that typically included ringing bells, bonfires and processions. Those same things were used to celebrate the new country once independence from England was declared.

According to, the tradition setting off fireworks on July 4th began in Philadelphia on July 4, 1977, when the sky was lit up when a ship fired off a 13-gun salute in honor of the 13 colonies. The same night, the Sons of Liberty set off fireworks over Boston Commons.

The tradition of celebrating July 4th grew after the War of 1812, spreading across the country. Much like it was in the beginning, Independence Day is celebrated with fireworks, parties and parades.

Here are some facts about the Declaration of Independence from

  • Despite conspiracy theories and movies, there isn’t a secret map or code on the back of the Declaration of Independence. There are words, however. An unknown person wrote “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776″ on the back. It’s believed that was added as a label when the document was rolled up for storage.
  • Thomas Jefferson is often called the “author” of the Declaration of Independence, but he wasn’t the only person who contributed important ideas. Jefferson was a member of a five-person committee appointed by the Continental Congress to write the Declaration. The committee included Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman.
  • The Declaration of Independence wasn’t signed on July 4, 1776. In fact, independence was formally declared on July 2, 1776, a date that John Adams believed would be “the most memorable epocha in the history of America.” On July 4, 1776, Congress approved the final text of the Declaration. It wasn’t signed until August 2, 1776.
  • The two youngest signers of the Declaration of Independence were both from South Carolina. Thomas Lynch, Jr. and Edward Rutledge of South Carolina were both born in 1749 and were only 26 when they signed the Declaration. The oldest signer was Benjamin Franklin, who was born in 1706 and 70 at the time of the Declaration.
  • Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the vote to approve the Declaration of Independence.
  • There were 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. Of those, the most – 9 – were from Pennsylvania, followed by 7 from Virginia and 5 from both Massachusetts and New Jersey.
  • There were 2.5 million people living in America in July 1776. Last year’s population on the same date was 332 million.


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