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What Happened on July 4?

  • The US Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. (1776) The document, mostly written by Thomas Jefferson who would later become the third President of the United States, was published in many forms for distribution to the new U.S. citizens. The signed copy is displayed in Washington D.C. at the National Archives.

  • The first 4th of July celebration west of the Mississippi River was held. (1804) Out with an expedition team exploring the United States, Lewis and Clark stopped in Kansas to throw the party. They fired the expedition canon and the men on the team got an extra ration of whiskey to celebrate the day.

  • West Point opened. (1802) Officially called the U.S. Military Academy, the school is the oldest of the U.S. military academies. Its first cadets were anywhere from 10 to 37 years old, and Joseph Gardner Swift — who would later become the campus' superintendent — was first to graduate from the academy. More than 4,000 students attend the academy today.

  • Two of the Founding Fathers of the United States died. (1826) John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the second and third U.S. Presidents, died on the same day. Adams was 90 and Jefferson was 83.

  • Famed major league baseball player Lou Gehrig gave his tearful farewell to baseball and to his fans. (1939) Struck with a fatal neurological disease that would later be named after him, Gehrig retired. He told his fans, "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth." Gehrig set many records in baseball and continues to hold the record for the most career grand slams.

  • The 49th and 50th stars were added to U.S. flag, one year to the day apart. (1959 & 1960) The new state of Alaska resulted in the 49th star being added to the flag in 1959. One year later, Hawaii became the 50th state and the flag was altered again, getting its 50th star.

  • France gave the Statue of Liberty to the U.S. (1886) The gift celebrated the centennial anniversary of the independence of the United States. The sculpture was commissioned to French artist Frédéric Bartholdi, who holds the patent for the statue's structure. More than three million people visit the national monument every year.

  • The Freedom of Information Act was signed by U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. (1966) The law, which allows for documents and information controlled by the U.S. government to be accessed by the public, went into effect one year later. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is often used by the U.S. media, but the person who has issued more FOIA requests than any one person is a German woman named Barbara Schwarz. She is certain that she is a U.S. citizen and that she was kidnapped from a secret U.S. submarine base in Utah. The U.S. government denies the records exist. Believing in a conspiracy to keep her from truth, she filed a complaint that set the voluminous litigation record in the U.S., with 2,370 pages and 3,087 federal employee defendants named.

  • The Butcher of Lyon was sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity. (1987) Klaus Barbie was the head Gestapo of Lyon and an SS Officer for the Nazi party in Germany. He is believed to have tortured countless individuals and to be responsible for as many as 4,000 deaths.

  • The world's first long distance railway opened. (1837) The Grand Junction Railway tracks connected Birmingham and Liverpool in the United Kingdom. The tracks spanned about 82 miles (132 kilometers). The railway was operational until it merged with the London and North Western Railway in 1846.

  • Charles Lutwidge Dodgson told three little girls a story about a bored little girl named Alice — a story that would be published as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland three years later. (1862) After the tale was finished, one of the girls, Alice Liddell, asked Dodgson to write it down for her. It took two years, but Dodgson, who wrote under the name Lewis Carroll, finally handed her the manuscript in November, 1864. He continued to work on the story and published it the following year. One of the most well-known tales of all time, the story has been translated into more than 120 languages. In 1998, an 1865 first edition copy was auctioned in New York for $1.5 million U.S. Dollars.

  • In a title fight boxing match, black boxer Jack Johnson knocked out heavyweight champion Jim Jeffries, an undefeated white boxer, and race riots broke out across the United States. (1910) Johnson was the first black man to become the world heavyweight boxing champion. Riots broke out in 25 states; hundreds of people were injured and 25 were killed.

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