On This Date In History

Hot dogs, picnics, parades, fireworks…

That’s what the Fourth of July in America often brings to mind. And though most of us are busy during this “day off”, the brief respite from daily activities gives us time to remember.

July 4th has been an auspicious date in our history. Since Congress proclaimed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the first Independence Day celebration was held twenty years later, significant events that have shaped America are connected to this date.

It was on the Fourth that the Louisiana Purchase was announced in 1803, and 148 years later, the invention of the transistor. Construction began on the Erie Canal and the first passenger railroad on this date, and the cornerstone for the Freedom Tower was laid in New York City.

On July 4th slavery was abolished in New York, LBJ signed the Freedom of Information act, and the Statue of Liberty’s crown reopened to the public  8 years after the 9/11 attacks.

The first public exhibition of electric light in San Francisco, the opening of the Pacific Cable, the first meeting of Howard Florey and Norman Heatley (who would successfully recreate penicillin 11 days later), the launch of Hot Mail (the first free internet email service) and last year, the discovery of particles consistent with the Higgs Boson at the Large Hadron Collider was announced at CERN…all on July 4th.

It was on the Fourth that “America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee)” was first sung in Boston, “America The Beautiful” was published by Katherine Lee Bates, and Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40” debuted on LA radio.

July 4th marked the end of the Battle of Gettysburg and the beginning of American aerial bombardment of Nazi Germany. In 1959, America’s new 49-star flag honoring Alaska statehood was unfurled, followed one year later by our new 50-star flag honoring Hawaiian statehood.

The Fourth of July is the birthday of Calvin Coolidge, Neil Simon, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Rube Goldberg, Malia Obama and Stephen Foster…as well as the advice twins, Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren.

We’ve also lost many on July 4th, including three Presidents: Thomas Jefferson five hours before his old friend and sometimes nemesis, John Adams; and 5 years later, James Monroe.

Whether the date begets events, or events shape the date, the Fourth of July has become an important marker in the American Experience. Who knows what future Independence Days will bring, but in the meantime, each of us can take the time to remember, experience, and perhaps even make our own personal slice of U.S. history.

In between the burgers and beer, the swimming and parading, the oohing and aahing at fireworks, take a moment to remember: the amazing, astonishing and nearly improbable adventure that is America. Remember the momentous events to be sure, but remember also the men and women who have made—and continue to make—our country a reality. Honor the people you know through history books, but also the ones you have encountered in your own life.

Call an old friend, spend time talking to a veteran, gather the stories of ordinary Americans who have contributed in their own way to this extraordinary land.

The events in Egypt remind us that we are blessed, mostly through an accident of birth, to be living in this country at this time. The quilt of America is made up of millions and millions of individual stitches, each a unique contribution to the whole.

This is our Independence Day, but we are bound by Interdependence. Each has a role to play, but as the dear departed Larry Wilson use to say, “I have to do it myself, but I can’t do it alone.”


Today’s Fact Cetera

On July 4th 1776, about 2.5 million people lived in the newly independent United States. Today there are 316 million.

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