Fun Fourth of July Facts
Independence Day is celebrated across our country with the patriotic waving of the stars and stripes and the display of fireworks. How much do Americans really know about our flag and how exploding fireworks became a part of the festivities? Here is what every American should know about Old Glory and the fireworks that light up the sky and ring in our ears each July 4:
There are no official meanings tied to the colors of the flag, but over time it has been generally agreed upon that red signifies hardiness and valor, blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice, while white denotes purity and innocence. Red has been informally linked to the remembrance of the courage and bloodshed of American war heroes. Some historians believe the red color was a nod to British heritage, but with intersections of white indicating independence and freedom from British rule. The blue has also been attributed to the color of the “chief” or president. Blue was the perfect background or “sky” for the “new constellation” of our emerging country as described in the Flag Act, which was passed on June 14, 1777.
The first flag the revolutionists used was actually not yet an “American” flag. The Grand Union Flag had 13 alternating red and white stripes and the British Union Jack in the upper left hand corner. On New Year’s Day in 1776, the Continental Army was reorganized in accordance with a Congressional resolution, placing American forces under the leadership of George Washington. This flag, although never made official, was flown above General Washington’s base at Prospect Hill.
The first official U.S. flag is known as the Betsy Ross Flag, although most historians now believe it to be more legend than fact that Mrs. Ross actually sewed the famous flag. It was most likely designed by Francis Hopkinson. This familiar flag is made up of 13 alternating red and white stripes and thirteen white stars arranged in a circle on a blue background in the upper left hand corner to represent the 13 original colonies (Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island). Flag Day commemorates the Flag Resolution of June 14, 1777, which made the Betsy Ross flag the first official American flag.
The Star Spangled Banner Flag was designed much like the Betsy Ross Flag, only with 15 stars arranged in rows and 15 stripes to represent the original 13 states plus Kentucky and Vermont. In 1812 the flag was flown over Fort McHenry, inspiring Francis Scott Key to write his poem “The Star Spangled Banner”. This poem was later put to music to become our national anthem. The Star Spangled Banner Flag is on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.
Twenty five other versions of the US flag followed the Star Spangled Banner Flag. Each of these subsequent flags had only 13 stripes, but the stars kept increasing from 20 to 50 as more states were added to the Union.
Our current Fifty Star American Flag was designed by a seventeen year old Ohio high school student named Robert Heft. As part of a history assignment in 1958, he anticipated the addition of Alaska and Hawaii to our country. Heft is said to have toiled for 12 hours using his mother’s sewing machine and a hot iron to add a new blue canton, or upper left hand corner, to an heirloom family 48 star flag. The new canton had 50 stars on each side, totally 100 hand cut stars. His teacher said his project lacked originality and gave him a B minus. The teacher, however, agreed to raise Heft’s grade if he could convince Congress to accept the new design. Heft sat on stage with President Dwight D. Eisenhower as his Fifty Star American Flag was made official on July 4, 1960. The current flag has had the longest tenure of any of its predecessors. It is safe to say Robert Heft’s 11th grade history project has been an “A plus” for almost 50 years now in the heart of Americans.
Although the invention of the first fireworks (in the form of bamboo tubes filled with explosives) is generally credited to the Chinese, fireworks have been linked to American celebrations even before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The earliest settlers brought fireworks to the U.S. colonies for use in celebrations of all kinds as well as to impress the natives. A ban was even considered necessary in 1731 in the colony of Rhode Island to stifle the mischievous and irresponsible use of explosives. Since the celebratory use of fireworks was common in the colonies, it is no surprise that they were a big part of the first official celebration of Independence Day in 1777. Fireworks, then, are as American as apple pie, and have been with our nation since the very beginning!