Fireworks, Hot Dogs, and Patriotism: All About Fourth of July Traditions

  • Posted on Wednesday June 28, 2017
  • 3 Min Read

Food, family, and fireworks – it doesn’t get any better than that. And every year we get to combine the three to celebrate Independence Day, the day the United States of America adopted the Declaration of Independence and became a new nation by separating from the British Empire. Since that historic milestone on July 4, 1776, our country has commemorated its freedom and independence every year since.

But with this celebration comes many traditions our country has adopted along the way – traditions that many partake in, but don’t exactly know why. So, to mark America’s 241st birthday, Devon Self Storage is sharing the history behind these traditions, along with some other fun facts about this significant holiday.

Why Do We Celebrate the Fourth of July with Fireworks?

The answer to this question is surprisingly simple: One of our founding fathers wanted us to.

In a letter to his wife Abigail, John Adams wrote the celebration of America’s independence should include “…Pomp and Parade, Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” 241 years later, it’s safe to say our country has gone above and beyond to carry out this tradition. But how did this simple desire of John Adams turn into the spectacle it is today?

Many historians claim fireworks were invented as early as 200 B.C. by the Chinese, who roasted bamboo until it cracked and popped (like a firecracker) to scare off evil spirits. A lot of experimentation and the discovery of gunpowder eventually led to what we know and see fireworks as today: a booming, beautiful display for individuals and spectators to enjoy.

In the US, though, it wasn’t until July 4, 1777 – a year after Congress agreed on the Declaration of Independence (more on that later) – that the first celebratory fireworks were set off in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And it wasn’t until around 1783 that fireworks were made widely available to the public and included more pyrotechnics like wheels, fountains, and rockets.

Today, fireworks are used to commemorate numerous celebrations in numerous countries, mesmerizing audiences all over the world – just as John Adams predicted.

An illustration of rockets and fireworks with a caption that reads: "July 4, 1777: The first celebratory fireworks are set off in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania."

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Hot Dogs

It’s no secret our country loves to celebrate this historic holiday with hot dogs. In fact, around 150 million hot dogs are consumed by Americans every Fourth of July. It probably comes as no surprise that July is also National Hot Dog Month.

But that still doesn’t explain why we eat hot dogs on Independence Day. As it turns out, there’s a lot more to it than the fact they taste good.

There’s a long-standing urban legend that Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest (held on Coney Island) originated on July 4, 1916. The tale goes something like this: Four immigrants challenged each other to a hot dog eating contest to prove their loyalty to America. The rules were simple; whoever could eat the most hot dogs was the most patriotic.

But here’s where the (hot dog) water gets a bit murky. In 2010, well-known promoter Mortimer Matz claimed the entire story was invented back in 1972 as a publicity stunt. Coincidentally, Nathan’s has no records of the contest before that year, yet they still cite 1916 as the year the contest originated.

Whether you’re a believer or a skeptic, there’s no denying Americans love hot dogs. And here are some crazy numbers to prove it.

Other Fun Facts About the Fourth of July

Battle of the Birds

America’s independence can’t be properly celebrated without honoring our national symbol of patriotism: the bald eagle. But, imagine for a second that The Great Seal didn’t include the bald eagle, but featured another bird that’s also symbolic in America.

Yes, we’re talking about the turkey.

After the Declaration of Independence was finalized, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson were tasked with creating a seal and choosing a national symbol to represent our country. For some time, people believed that Franklin suggested the symbol be a turkey, but it turns out that wasn’t the case.

The story actually stemmed from a letter Franklin wrote to his daughter, in which he made some critiques about a medal created for the Society of the Cincinnati, saying it looked like a turkey rather than a bald eagle. He went on to express his strong opinion about the matter, even questioning the morals of the bald eagle and claiming the turkey is much more respectable. In the letter he wrote:

An illustration of a bald eagle with a Benjamin Franklin quote from 1784 that reads: "For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America…"

In the same letter, Franklin also compared the bald eagle to “…men who live by sharping and robbing,” saying the bald eagle is “generally poor and often very lousy” and a “rank coward.”

Happy Second of July?

Remember the letter in which John Adams wrote how we should commemorate America’s independence? He actually declared all of the spectacular celebrations should happen on the second of July, not the fourth!

That’s because the legal separation of the 13 Colonies from Great Britain happened on July 2, 1776, when Congress voted for independence. But it took two additional days for delegates to debate and agree upon the Declaration of Independence, which is why we celebrate on the fourth.

It Takes Two

It’s often misunderstood that the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776. However, it wasn’t until nearly a month later, on August 2, that 56 congressional delegates signed their name to the document. While the facts surrounding the signing of the Declaration of Independence are widely debated, many historians claim only two people signed it on July 4 – John Hancock, who was the president of Congress, and Secretary Charles Thompson.

An illustration of the Statue of Liberty and fireworks with a caption that reads: "August 2, 1776: The Declaration of Independence is signed by 56 congressional delegates."

Happy Fourth of July from Devon Self Storage

With so much historical significance surrounding the Fourth of July, it’s easy to see why America pulls out all the stops each year to celebrate. But it’s also important to understand why we commemorate this holiday and remember to serve those who serve our country.

We want to thank all those who bravely fight for the US so we can continue to celebrate our freedom. And, for those who are service members, be sure to take advantage of our military discount when you rent with Devon Self Storage.

From sea to shining sea, and from our storage family to yours, Happy Fourth of July!