5 Surprising Fourth of July Facts

NYC fireworks
What better symbol of our independence? (Image credit: CREDIT: © Warren Rosenberg | Dreamstime.com)

When the grills get going and the fireworks launch this Fourth of July, what will you remember about America's most patriotic holiday? Here are five surpring facts to help you bone up on your Independence Day trivia:

1. John Adams thought Americans would celebrate July 2

The Continental Congress officially declared its freedom from British rule on July 2, 1776, the day that John Adams wrongly thought would be commemorated by future generations. July Fourth, meanwhile, marks the day Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. As copies of the declaration spread across the colonies, celebrations kicked off. Americans lit bonfires, fired celebratory shots from their guns, rang bells, and took down symbols of the British monarchy. At that point, the Boston Tea Party and the Battles of Lexington and Concord had already happened, but the American Revolutionary War wouldn't end until the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783.

2. Three presidents died on the Fourth of July

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson passed away within hours of each other on July 4, 1826. The two had been political rivals and then friends later in life, and both signed the Declaration of Independence. James Monroe, the nation's fifth president, was the next U.S. leader to die, and he passed away on July 4, 1831. Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president, is the only U.S. chief to have been born on the Fourth of July. [Fabulous 4th of July Facts: The 13 Original Colonies]

3. Songs in today's patriotic canon don't have Revolutionary roots

Before the Revolution, "Yankee Doodle" was originally sung by British military officers who mocked the unorganized and buckskin-wearing "Yankees" with whom they fought during the French and Indian War. Our national anthem didn't originate in the war for independence, either. The "Star Spangled Banner" is a poem Francis Scott Key wrote in 1814, when the British relentlessly attacked Baltimore's Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. It was later put to music and became the official national anthem in 1931.

4. The oldest celebration is in the smallest state

It took some time for the Independence Day parties to become the extravagant fireworks-filled spectacles they are today. Most celebrations didn't become regular until the 19th century, but the Bristol Fourth of July Parade in Bristol, R.I., claims to be the oldest continuous Independence Day celebration in the United States, held every year since 1785.

5. The number of Fourth of July revelers has increased by more than a hundredfold

Only 2.5 million people lived in the United States when the colonies first declared independence, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Today, the nation is much bigger than 13 wee states and it's more crowded, too. This estimated population on for July 4, 2013, is 316.2 million people.

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Megan Gannon
Live Science Contributor
Megan has been writing for Live Science and Space.com since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.