July 4 is the 185th day on the Georgian calendar, unless it’s a leap year, in which case it’s the 186th. Historically, it has most often been a Monday, Wednesday, or Saturday. There’s more to July 4 than just being a random day of the year, though. A great amount of history has taken place on that date. Of course, to Americans, July 4 is an important date because of what happened in our first entry…
10. 1776 – Declaration of Independence is Adopted
The American Revolutionary War started in 1775, and when it began, many of the American colonists did not want to have complete independence from Britain and those who did were considered radical. However, throughout the year, those sentiments changed drastically. On June 6, 1776, Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee put forth a motion to break from Britain and for the colonies to be independent. Voting was postponed until July 2, and then the Continental Congress nearly unanimously voted for independence. There was only one holdout: New York. They abstained and then later voted for independence.
Two days after the vote, the Declaration of Independence, which was mostly written by Thomas Jefferson, was officially adopted. July 4 became a day of celebration, even though several of the Founding Fathers thought that July 2 was actually a more accurate date to celebrate America’s independence. This includes President John Adams, who was known to turn down invitations for festivities that happened on July 4.
July 4 was made an official holiday in 1941 and, of course, it is still celebrated annually with festivities and fireworks throughout the country.
9. 1802 – West Point Opens
The idea to establish a military academy to specifically train military personnel in the United States was first proposed by George Washington in 1783. Others rejected the idea because they thought it was too European, and might be a danger to democracy because it could create a militant class that could overthrow the government. As a result of the opposition, it would take nearly 20 years to open America’s first military academy – West Point.
Officially called the United States Military Academy, West Point was founded on March 16, 1802, and is located in Orange County, New York, poised above the Hudson River. The school officially opened its doors on July 4, 1802.
The school was for apprentice military engineers and in 1812, it expanded to educate 250 students, leading to the development of a four-year curriculum.
West Point has been open ever since, making it one of the oldest military academies in the world.
8. 1826 – President John Adams and President Thomas Jefferson Die
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson are two of the seven key Founding Fathers of America and both strongly believed in freedom and democracy, but they completely differed on how to achieve these goals. This eventually led to a rivalry between the two men.
Adams, who was the first Vice President, became the second President of the United States in 1797 and he held the office until 1801. He wanted a strong central government, while Jefferson, who succeeded Adams as President and served from 1801 to 1809, wanted the states to have more rights and for the federal government to have minimal involvement.
After their tenures as President, the former allies and then-rivals revived their friendship. It started with a letter dated January 1, 1812, from Adams to Jefferson, wishing him a happy New Year.
The men corresponded until their deaths, which both happened on July 4, 1826, 50 years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Adams, who was 90-years-old, died first. His last words were “Thomas Jefferson still survives.” He was right, but only for about five hours. That’s when Jefferson passed away; he was 84.
Amazingly, these aren’t the only Presidents to die on July 4. The fifth President of the United States, James Monroe, died five years later, on July 4, 1831.
7. 1862 – Lewis Carroll First Tells the Story of Alice in Wonderland
Born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson on January 27, 1832, in Daresbury, Cheshire, England, Lewis Carroll was a mathematician, logician, and most notably, a writer. His most famous piece of work is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which was published in 1865.
The story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was inspired by 10-year-old Alice Liddell, who was the daughter of Henry George Liddell, dean of Christ Church. Carroll had befriended Alice and her siblings, like he had befriended other children before her. When Alice and her sisters spent time with Carroll, he would tell them some fantastical stories.
On July 4, 1862, Carroll took Alice and her two sisters on a boating picnic and told them a story about a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole and lands in a magical place called Wonderland. Alice loved the story and demanded that he write it out. He did, and three years later it was published. It was a huge success and it is also credited with launching modern children’s literature.
These days, for fans of Carroll and his magnum opus, July 4 is considered Alice’s Day.
6. 1879 – The Anglo-Zulu War Ends
The Zulu Kingdom saw massive growth under the leadership of Shaka, who became chief of the tribe in 1816. When he became chief, the Zulus’ population was about 1,500, but at its peak, there were over 10 million citizens and they lived in what is today the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal. Shaka was ultimately killed in 1828 by his half-brothers because he went insane.
Fifty years later, in 1878, the British wanted to take over Zululand for several reasons. The first is that they wanted the population to work in their diamond fields, and they wanted to make an African federation, which would destroy other autonomous African nations.
So on December 11, 1878, they gave the Zulus an ultimatum that would have been impossible for them to meet. For example, the Zulus had 30 days to dismantle their army and give up other major aspects of their culture.
The British invasion began on January 11, 1879, and throughout the war, there were several bloody battles. The problem the Zulus had was that they didn’t manufacture their own guns, so they were completely out-weaponed.
Nearly six months after the war started, on July 4, 1879, the British stormed the Zulu capital, Ulundi, and they defeated the last of the Zulu warriors, signaling the end of the Anglo-Zulu War.
5. 1884 – France Transfers Ownership of the Statue of Liberty to the United States
What really happened is that French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi got the idea from Edouard Laboulaye, who was the chairman of French anti-slavery society, who suggested it at a dinner party in 1865.
Two years would go by, and during that time, Bartholdi came up with the design of the Statue of Liberty, but he originally pitched it to Egypt to be built along the Suez Canal. The deal ultimately fell through.
Bartholdi then decided that his statue should be used as a gift to the Americans and he tried to get money from the French government to construct it, but they weren’t interested. So Bartholdi started to fundraise money to build it on his own. After construction started in 1876, Bartholdi sold tickets to see the construction of the statue in his workshop, along with souvenirs to fund the project. It was only in 1880, when the construction was half-finished, that the French government swooped in and ensured the rest of the funding.
In a ceremony on July 4, 1884, the French government offered the statue to American Ambassador Levi P. Morton. They even offered a warship to ship the statue to the United States, including an offer to cover the cost. Morton, on behalf of the American government, accepted the statue.
The Statue of Liberty arrived at Bedloe’s Island on June 17, 1885, and it was officially unveiled on October 28, 1886.
4. 1938 – Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day
Lou Gehrig was born on June 19, 1903, in Manhattan, New York. His parents had four children, but he was the only one to survive infancy. He grew up in poverty with an alcoholic father and a mother who worked several jobs to support the family.
From a young age, Gehrig showed signs that he was an excellent athlete, and he played both baseball and football. He ended up signing with the New York Yankees in April 1923. On June 15, 1923, he played his first game at first base for the Yankees and he continued to play every game for the next 15 seasons. During that time, he was consistently one of the best hitters in the game. He also helped lead the Yankees to six World Series titles and he was named American League MVP in 1927 and 1936.
Then in 1938, Gehrig had his first sub-par year. At first, Gehrig and many other people just thought that he was losing his edge. After all, he was 35-years-old and he had played a lot of professional baseball during his 15 year career.
Gehrig started the 1939 season, but he had to bench himself on May 2, 1939, due to poor play. Then he sat the next game, ending his consecutive game streak at 2,130.
In June 1939, Gehrig flew to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. On his 36th birthday, he learned that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – which is now much better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Not long after the diagnosis, he retired from baseball.
On July 4 of that year, Yankee Stadium, which opened the same year that Gehrig signed with the team, held “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day.” Over 60,000 fans attended the doubleheader between the Yankees and the Washington Senators. In between the games, they held a tribute for Gehrig, where he gave his famous speech that started with the lines:
“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.”
Gehrig died two years later on June 2, 1941. His consecutive game streak would stand for 56 years until Cal Ripken Jr. broke it in 1995.
3. 1950 – Radio Free Europe First Broadcasts
Radio Free Europe was first conceived during the early days of the Cold War by George F. Kennan, who was with the United States Department of State, and Frank G. Wisner, who was a member of the Office of Policy Coordination, which later became the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Their plan was to broadcast news through radio signals into countries behind the Iron Curtain.
Radio Free Europe first broadcast on July 4, 1950, from Munich, West Germany, into Czechoslovakia. A short time later, their broadcast was translated into 15 different languages and transmitted into other countries behind the Iron Curtain. In 1951, Radio Liberty was launched and it specifically targeted the Soviet Union, while Radio Free Europe continued to target satellite countries.
Obviously, the communist governments didn’t like this and often tried to jam the radio signals and even bombed the stations. But in the end, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty proved to be the victor. Former President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel and former Russian President Boris Yeltsin both credit Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty with helping end the Cold War.
Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty are one entity today, which broadcasts in 23 countries in 26 languages, including Russia, Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, just to name a few.
2. 1966 – President Lyndon Johnson Signs the Freedom of Information Act
The first person to champion the Freedom of Information Act was Democratic Congressman John Moss from California. He introduced it in 1955 as a way to create more transparency in the government. It found support from newspaper editors and journalists, but not many people in the government liked it. Specifically, Moss couldn’t find a Republican to co-sponsor the bill.
For years, Moss campaigned and finally in 1966, he found a co-sponsor: a young Republican congressman named Donald Rumsfeld. On June 20, 1966, the House passed the Freedom of Information Act by a vote of 307–0. The problem was that President Lyndon Johnson didn’t want to sign it. But if he didn’t sign, it would look like he was hiding something. So on July 4, 1966, Johnson signed it in private at his Texas ranch instead of having a ceremony to mark the occasion.
Today, the Freedom of Information Act is still an instrumental tool in keeping the government transparent. There is a good chance that if you read a big news story involving the government, you’ll read something to the effect of “according to documents obtained due to the Freedom of Information Act” somewhere in the story.
1. 1997 – The Mars Pathfinder Lands on Mars
On December 4, 1996 at 1:58:07 am EST, NASA launched the Mars Pathfinder from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It had an uneventful journey and landed on the Ares Vallis plain of Mars on July 4, 1997. On board the Pathfinder was the Sojourner rover. The Sojourner became the first vehicle to operate outside of the Earth and the Moon.
The last communication from the Pathfinder was received on September 27, 1997, and the results of the Pathfinder mission was that 2.3 billion bits of information about Mars was sent back to Earth. This included 16,500 pictures and 8.5 million measurements of the atmospheric pressure, temperature, and wind speed.