Past Celebrations

Many of the ways we celebrate 4th of July today are as old as our country itself. Although the Revolutionary War did not end until 1783 and the US Constitution wasnt fully ratified in 1789, the tradition of parades, fireworks and military displays all date back to time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Here are a few notable July 4 celebrations that have occurred throughout American history:

  • 1776 — Public readings of the Declaration of Independence occurred throughout the month of July, often accompanied by celebrations and the firing of cannons and muskets. On July 25 in Williamsburg, this ceremony included a full military parade.
  • 1777 — The first organized Independence Day celebration took place, in Philadelphia, complete with a parade and fireworks.
  • 1778 — General George Washington ordered his army to wear “green boughs” in their hats and issued a double allowance of rum. Perhaps, this was the inadvertent start of another tradition.
  • 1779 — Because the 4th fell on a Sunday for the first time, most celebrations were held the following day. This practice inaugurated the start of celebrating the holiday on the following Monday.
  • 1781 — The Massachusetts legislature became the first government body to formally recognize the 4th.
  • 1783 — The Governor of North Carolina, Alexander Martin, became the first executive to recognize the 4th. An historic celebration in Salem, North Carolina ensued.
  • 1791 — George Washington gave his only July 4th address ever in Lancaster, PA. This year also marked the first recorded use of the term “Independence Day.”
  • 1795 — In Alexandria, Virginia, a mock battle engagement was held, one of the first battle re-enactments.
  • 1801 This was the first time a public reception was held at the White House for the Fourth.
  • 1826 — The 5th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence was commemorated with celebrations called the “Jubilee of Freedom.” John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the second and third presidents of the country, both died on this day.
  • 1876 — The Centennial celebration took place over three days. Huge celebrations were held throughout the land, including the start of the tradition of Navy vessel demonstrations in Bristol, Rhode Island.
  • 1916 — This year marked the origin of the Nathan”s Hot Dog Eating Contest, allegedly to determine which among four immigrants was the most patriotic.
  • 1926 — For the 150th anniversary, President Calvin Coolidge symbolically planted a willow tree in New Jersey, as this was the same kind of tree near the grave of George Washington in Mount Vernon, Virginia.
  • 1933 — One hundred and fifty naval warships gave a simultaneous 21-gun salute on the Pacific coast.
  • 1942 — Most fireworks displays are cancelled due to wartime mandated blackouts.
  • 1945 — The US flag is raised over Berlin, Germany, with a 48-gun salute.
  • 1946 — The first peacetime Fourth in five years is celebrated with American troops celebrating in Japan and Germany.
  • 1947 — The first televised broadcast of the Fourth ceremony from Washington, D.C. was aired.
  • 1959 — The 49 star flag waves after Alaska becomes a state.
  • 1960 — Our current fifty state flag was first waved, as Hawaii had achieved statehood the previous summer.
  • 1966 — The first annual re-enactment of the 1783 celebration in Salem, North Carolina was held. At Knott”s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California, an exact replica of Independence Hall in Philadelphia opened.
  • 1975 — A historic re-enactment of the shelling of Fort McHenry, in Baltimore, Maryland took place, with forty naval vessels participating. The bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 had been Francis Scott Key”s inspiration to compose “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
  • 1976 — This was the year of the Bicentennial Celebration. The entire country was clothed in red, white and blue. In Boston, the USS Constitution, which to this day remains the worlds oldest naval vessel still afloat, fired her cannons for the first time in 95 years. She has since fired her guns at several other Independence Day celebrations. At two pm, the time the Declaration of Independence was originally approved, church bells rang throughout nation.
  • 2001 — Public readings of the Declaration of Independence took place throughout the country.