WTF Fun Fact 13440 – The Independence Day Date

If some of the U.S.’s founding fathers got their way, Americans the Independence Day date would be the 2nd of July.

Why is the U.S. Independence Day date the 4th of July?

On a blistering summer day in Philadelphia in the year 1776, a group of men in the Second Continental Congress convened. These “founding fathers” were ready to sever the bonds with their British overlords. This day was July 2nd, a date largely forgotten in the grand narrative of American independence.

Two of these influential men, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, were sticklers for precision. They believed that July 2nd, not July 4th, should ring be America’s Independence Day. The Congress voted for independence on this day, – kind of a no-brainer, right?

Jefferson and Adams, who would later become presidents, firmly considered July 2nd to the true birth of American freedom.

Voting for Independence

On July 2nd, the Continental Congress voted in favor of Richard Henry Lee’s resolution for independence from British rule. This momentous decision effectively set the 13 colonies on the path to becoming the United States of America. An event of this magnitude surely deserved to be marked in history.

However, the document Americans now revere as the Declaration of Independence was finalized and formally adopted two days later on July 4th. This date engraved on the top of the document created a longstanding association with the birth of American independence. It was the date that was eventually printed in newspapers, establishing the Fourth of July in the collective consciousness of the public.

Arguing over the Inependence Day date

Jefferson and Adams harbored their beliefs passionately. Adams even went to the extent of reportedly turning down invitations to participate in Fourth of July events as a form of silent protest. He firmly believed that the celebrations were simply on the wrong day.

In a bizarre twist of fate, both Adams and Jefferson died on the same day, July 4, 1826, on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. The coincidence of their deaths on this date further romanticized the idea of July 4th as Independence Day.

Over the years, the debate has lost much of its steam. Americans now celebrate the Fourth of July Independence Day. The story of July 2nd remains a fascinating footnote in the saga of American independence, a testament to the complex and sometimes contentious process that birthed the nation we know today.

Does the Independence Day date really matter?

In the grand scheme of things, whether Independence Day falls on the second or fourth of July might seem trivial. Still, this tale serves as a potent reminder of the spirited debates and diverse perspectives that shaped the foundation of the United States.

And the next time you’re watching fireworks light up the night sky on the Fourth of July, remember the tale of July 2nd.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “When is the real Independence Day: July 2 or July 4?” — National Constitution Center

WTF Fun Facts 12781 – The 100+ Duels of Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson was a bit of a hothead. How else does one get into over 100 duels (103, by some counts)?

Andrew and Rachel Jackson

Prior to becoming president, Andrew Jackson had quite a career as a soldier and a lawyer. But he was also well-known for his quick temper and desire to defend his wife’s honor (who people took to calling a bigamist).

Jackson’s wife, Rachel, had been married when they met. And by most accounts, he rescued her from an abusive marriage. However, that relationship didn’t end with a legal divorce. Hence the bigamy accusations. (She was officially divorced two years after her wedding to Jackson.)

A fellow plantation owner named Charles Dickinson took a feud over a bet (and related name-calling) public, apparently leaving Jackson with no choice.

The famous pre-presidential duel

Jackson clearly didn’t learn much from the 1804 duel of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. He and Dickinson met for their duel in 1806, eighteen years before his presidential election.

Dickinson shot Jackson directly in the chest. He lived, but the bullet could not be removed, and he suffered from health issues for the rest of his life.

According to Dickinson’s men, Jackson shot back, but his pistol jammed. They claimed he shot a second time (which is a major breach of conduct), killing Dickinson.

The aftermath of the duel

What we know for sure is that even after being shot in the chest, he staunched his wound with a handkerchief before gathering his strength to shoot.

While dueling was illegal, it clearly didn’t hurt his chances of being elected. And he wasn’t charged with murder either. It seems his sense of honor was intact along with his reputation (at least at the time).

 WTF fun facts

Source: “The Nine Lives of Andrew Jackson” — Mental Floss

WTF Fun Fact 12762 – The Signing of the Declaration of Independence

When was the signing of the Declaration of Independence? Well, it’s far more likely that the document was signed on August 2, 1776, and not on July 4th as most of us are taught.

At the very least, August 2nd is when the signatures were done being added (though we’re also pretty sure the last one was added in 1777).

So, when was the Declaration of Independence’s signed?

The delegates to the Second Continental Congress voted to approve the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Out of the 13 colonies, 12 voted to approve, with only New York abstaining since its delegates had not yet received official permission from Albany yet. That’s because like much legislation, compromises were still being made until the last minute (around 86 changes to Thomas Jefferson’s original draft).

The document stated that the signatories would no longer be colonies of the Kingdom of Great Britain and would not be “free and independent States.” It’s likely that at this point, the secretary of the Continental Congress had his assistant create a copy to be printed, and then had it delivered to the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia (now known as Independence Hall) on August 2, 1776, where it was then signed (or the signatures were completed) by members of all the colonies.

(However, there is evidence that Thomas McKean didn’t have a chance to sign the document until after January 1777.)

Are you sure?

No one is exactly sure when the first signatures were added. But while Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams have all implied or stated that it was signed by Congress on July 4, 1776, the same day it was adopted, it appears that not even all the signatories were on site that day. That’s stated clearly by one of the signatories themselves. And to top it off, some of the signers hadn’t even been elected to the Congress by July 4th.

So, when was the Declaration of Independence signed? Maybe some people signed it on the 4th. But it’s far more likely that the final document was signed on August 2nd (and possibly done collecting signatures the following year).

Of course, this makes no real difference in the grand scheme of things. Independence Day celebrated the spirit of the document, which was largely in order and agreed to on July 4th.

But we do know one thing for certain about the Declaration of Independence – there is no treasure map on the back.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Unsullied by Falsehood: The Signing” — Declaration Resources Project, Harvard University

WTF Fun Fact 12761 – The 50-Star American Flag

Our current American flag was designed by teenager Robert Heft in 1958. This fact may give you a bit of pause for two reasons.

Who designed the American flag?

First, when we think of the designer of the U.S. flag, many of us think of Betsy Ross. And she is, indeed, the designer of the original. Of course, her design has endured as more states have been added to the Union.

But if you want to get technical, then The designer of the 50-star U.S. flag was a 17-year-old history student from Lancaster, Ohio named Robert Heft. He made it for a high school history project, and his teacher gave him a B- for lack of originality.

How did a teenager design the current American flag?

The second thing that might give you pause is that when Heft made his design, Hawaii and Alaska were not yet part of the United States. They didn’t even become part of the country at the same time.

Heft sewed on two more stars with the assumption that two more states would join. He used his parents then-current 48-star flag and his mother’s sewing machine.

According to the Ohio History Central (cited below), Heft’s history teacher “Stanley Pratt gave Heft a B- as the grade for the flag. Pratt supposedly stated that Heft’s design lacked originality, but the teacher did offer to raise the grade if Heft could get the flag accepted as the United States’ national flag. Heft sent his flag to Walter Moeller, his Ohio Congressman. Moeller succeeded in having Heft’s design adopted as the new United States flag on July 4, 1960.

Heft’s original flag has flown over the White House, every state capital building, and eighty-eight United States embassies. It remains in Heft’s possession, although numerous people and museums have offered to purchase the flag, including one offer of $350,000. Heft’s design was the twenty-seventh official flag of the United States.”

Heft died on December 12, 2009, in Saginaw, Michigan, of a heart attack.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Robert G. Heft” — Ohio History Central

WTF Fun Fact 12702 – A North American Hydrangea

There are nearly 75 species of hydrangea (depending on who you ask) and most hydrangeas are native to Asia. In fact, we once thought all hydrangeas were Asian natives until 1910.

As the story goes, Harriet Kirkpatrick, a wealthy woman from Illinois, was out on horseback one day when she discovered a wild hydrangea along a wooded trail. Known to indigenous Americans, no one else had been aware of it. It’s the variety we know refer to as the “Annabelle” hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), also called a “smooth” hydrangea.

As far as we know, Kirkpatrick is responsible for the propagation of the flower since she came back later, dug it up, planted it on her property, and began to share it with her friends.

According to Fairfax Master Gardener Ray Novitske, Kirkpatrick was an artist:

Kirkpatrick’s ceramics were known for utilitarian and ceremonial presentation pottery
(mostly ceramic pigs) throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Pottery manufacturing at this time was usually located where the clay and the railroads met, and geologists reported that some of the finest clay for pottery was found in and around Anna. This became a natural
place for pottery. Today the Kirkpatrick’s Anna Pottery pieces have found their way to museums and collectors. With its successful business, the family was wealthy so it could participate in leisure activities such as horseback riding.”

The rest of the Annabelle hydrangea’s story, including its name, comes fifty years later when it was “brought to the attention of J.C. McDaniel, famous plantsman and professor of horticulture. He loved it and set the wheels in motion for it to become a commercial success. Two years later, after some nursery propagation and further investigation, it was introduced to the world. McDaniel first wanted to register the hydrangea as “Ballerina”…but a name was selected to honor the belles of Anna who discovered it.” WTF fun facts

Source: “Story of the Annabelle Hydrangea” — Fairfax Gardening

WTF Fun Facts 12690 – The Official Creation of U.S. Memorial Day

The U.S. Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday in 1971 with the Uniform Holiday Memorial Act, however it has a history dating back much farther. The long title of the act that created Memorial Day is “An act to provide for uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays, and for other purposes.”

The Act is identified as Pub.L. 90–363, 82 Stat. 250 and was actually enacted on June 28, 1968, though it didn’t “take effect” until 1971. Of course, people celebrated, but creating a national holiday requires some extra time to work around business schedules since it would be a federal holiday and an official day off for federal workers. The travel industry played a role in lobbying for the Act in order to increase the number of 3-day weekends for Americans to plan vacations.

While the act may have been passed in part for political and financial reasons in Congress, to many Americans it was (and is) an important day of acknowledgment for soldiers past and present. At the time, the war in Vietnam was still raging as well, and this didn’t have heavy support on the homefront.

What is now “Memorial Day” started not long after the U.S. Civil War (which makes sense, since it claimed more lives than any other conflict in American history), and in many places was called originally called “Decoration Day.” In 1966, the federal government named Waterloo, New York the “birthplace of Memorial Day.” (But if you read the next “Fun” Fact, you’ll see why this was problematic for many people.)

It was (and IS) a day to celebrate all the members of the military who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. A number that stands at around 1.3 million people. – WTF fun facts

Source: “Memorial Day” —

WTF Fun Facts 12594 – Hot Dog Diplomacy

King George VI was the first sitting British ruler to visit a U.S. president. It was kind of a big deal after the whole Revolutionary War and the sore feelings that left.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president at the time and wanted to give the king a royal greeting, American style.

Of course there was a state dinner with all the attendant fancy food. But it was a casual picnic that really made the trip memorable because that’s when King George VI had his first hot dog on June 11, 1939.

It was a private picnic, but the hot dog moment was anything but a secret. In fact, a NYT headline the following day read: “King Tries Hot Dog and Asks For More.”

The brand was Swift, for those who need to know these things. And the king very appropriately had a beer with his 2 hot dogs as well, according to the Times.

Looking back on the moment in 2009, Dan Barry wrote in the NYT:

There is no record of the founding fathers ever eating hot dogs, no trace, for example, of mustard on the Declaration of Independence. But the hot dog has played a role in American foreign relations since at least June 1939, when the king and queen of England attended a picnic at President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s estate in Hyde Park, N.Y., while soliciting American support for England in the war about to consume Europe.”

The king’s mother was with him at the time and also partook in a hot dog – but she is said to have eaten it with a knife and fork.

Upon inviting an Iranian delegation to the US, the Obama administration relied once again on the diplomatic dogs. There’s no word on how they went down, but Barry seemed to think that it was an essential part of the diplomatic process either way, noting:

The hot dog, it seems, figures in American diplomacy only when absolutely needed. In 1999, for example, President Bill Clinton gathered at a table with Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel and the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat to eat hot dogs. Kosher, of course.”

– WTF fun facts

Source: “When Franklin Delano Roosevelt Served Hot Dogs to a King” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 12555 – The London Bridge of Arizona

London Bridge is falling down
Falling down, falling down
London Bridge is falling down
My fair lady

Did you sing this song as a kid? We sure did, although we had no idea just how many more verses it had – there are lines about building it up with iron bars as well as gold and silver, but in the end, the bridge was simply taken down and replaced.

Originally built in the 1830s, it spanned the River Thames in London, England. But by 1968, it was up for sale. We can’t really relate to the desire to buy an old bridge that’s falling down, but apparently, millionaires can. American entrepreneur and chainsaw manufacturer Robert P. McCulloch (who also inherited a fortune from his grandfather) decided to buy the bridge to serve as a tourist attraction in the new community he was planning in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. He paid $2.5 million (but there wasn’t exactly a bidding war over it).

And what millionaires want, they tend to get. He bought the bridge, had it dismantled, and transported it to Arizona on a cargo ship. After sailing through the Panama Canal, it landed in Long Beach, California, and was trucked to Lake Havasu City. There, it was reassembled and opened in October 1971.

But you don’t have to worry about using a crumbling old bridge if you visit it. The masonry from the old bridge simply forms the outer structure of the new “London Bridge,” which includes reinforced concrete. It now connects an island in the Colorado River with the main part of Lake Havasu City.

Now, when we say it connects an island, we don’t mean that a bridge was needed there. In fact, a canal was dug to create the island after the bridge was built. But it had the intended effect. Interest in buying land in the area increased, and it did indeed become a tourist destination (and it still is to this day). –  WTF fun fact

Source: “Arizona’s London Bridge: A Brief History” — Arizona Highways

WTF Fact 12430 – The Truth About Sunflowers

Don’t you just love sunflower season? Ok, it might be a bit too hot for some of us, but these big, happy flowers are a fun way to bring some sunshine to your yard or home.

If you’ve seen the sunflower a lot these days, it’s because it’s also the national flower of Ukraine. Girls would weave smaller varieties into flower crowns, and they’re commonly found on traditional embroidery. But the sunflower originated on the North American continent, in what is not the Western United States. In fact, it’s the only flower used for seed that originated in the US.

It wasn’t until the 1550s that Spanish conquerors brought the sunflower to Europe. Sunflowers have many practical uses since they can be pressed for sunflower oil, and the seeds are edible. Ironically, it wasn’t until the flowers reached Russia that they were seen as beautiful for display.

But the more fascinating thing about the sunflower might just be that – biologically speaking – what we consider to be one flower is actually thousands of tiny flowers. Those little brown things we think of as…well, what do we call those?… Anyway, those are individual flowers! And so are the petals.

That means a sunflower contains thousands (usually between 1000 and 2000) of individual flowers all held together by that impressive receptible base. The brown flowers develop into seeds, while the yellow petals (or “ray flowers”) simply wither.

Another cool fact about sunflowers is that they are heliotropic, which means the flowering head (which we guess is technically the correct phrase for what we refer to as a flower) turns with the sun for maximum exposure.

So if you set a vase of sunflowers on a table near a window and notice them all “looking” outside during the day, don’t assume someone turned the vase! The flower did that all on its own. – WTF fun facts 

Source: “Sunflower: An American Native” — University of Missouri, Department of Agronomy