Myth Trivia: Presidents, hot dogs and fireworks for the Fourth of July

Arguably, the hot dog's popularity has been greatly enhanced by Nathan's Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest, held every Independence Day in New York City.

Original Nathan's Famous location, still open on Coney Island, NYC. (Image via Wikipedia entry on Nathan's Famous, CC 2.5 license)

CHARLOTTE, N.C., July 4, 2017 – During most weeks here, Wednesdays are reserved for trivia. However, we indulge ourselves one day early this week so we can celebrate our nation’s 241st birthday with fresh, exciting trivia.

From portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale. (Public domain image)

It’s a relatively well known fact that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, two of our most beloved Founding Fathers, died on July 4, 1826 – fifty years after the Declaration of Independence was adopted.

However, two lesser known events also occurred on the Fourth. President James Monroe died on July 4th in 1831 while President Calvin Coolidge is the only Commander-in-Chief to have been born on the Fourth. Coolidge came into this world on this date back in 1872.

From the Official Presidential portrait of John Adams by John Trumbull, circa 1792. (Image is in the public domain)

Three states that are most closely associated with the American Revolution are Pennsylvania, Virginia and Massachusetts. But New England, which is famous today for lobsters and clams, introduced another Fourth of July tradition purely by coincidence after our nation was born.

Midsummer in New England boasted an abundance of salmon in the rivers throughout the region which, much like turkey on Thanksgiving, has now become the traditional New England food on the Fourth.

Just as collard greens and black-eyed peas are typical on New Year’s Day fare in the South, so, too, are salmon and green peas in the North Atlantic region of America. To round out the meal the way Abigail Adams did it, just add in a course of turtle soup to complete the menu.

These days, those ubiquitous hot dogs are more generally recognized as traditional Fourth of July cuisine. In fact, the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council designates the entire month of July as National Hot Dog Month.

Arguably, the hot dog’s popularity has been greatly enhanced by Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest, held every Independence Day in New York City. Last year, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut won his ninth hot dog eating trophy by gulping down 70 franks in the ten minute time period. You can watch the 2017 Contest action live from Coney Island today, from the famous location where Nathan’s began.

(UPDATE: Breaking from the New York Post via Fox News:

“Joey ‘Jaws’ Chestnut captured his second consecutive and 10th career Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest title with a record-breaking effort Tuesday in Coney Island.

“Chestnut devoured 72 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes – the most in Coney Island history – besting Carmen ‘The Mutiny’ Cincotti, of Mays Landing, NJ, who ate 68 dogs.”)

Believe it or not, approximately 150 million tasty dogs of all varieties are consumed by Americans on the Fourth. To give you a visual approximation of that statistic, if 150 million hot dogs were lined up end to end, the line of hot dogs would stretch from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles five times.

Along with hot dogs, the Fourth of July also produces and abundance of American flags, apple pie and parades.

The shortest holiday parade on the Fourth annually takes place in Aptos, California. At slightly more than a half mile in length, the Aptos parade features antique cars, decorated trucks and plenty of parade fans who enjoy strolling slightly more than two city blocks for a day filled with music, food and games.

The French roll out the fireworks to celebrate Bastille Day on July 14, as in this display in Paris in 2013. (Image via Wikipedia entry on Fireworks, CC 2.0 license)

One other notable Fourth of July tradition, which has now spread to other holiday celebrations as well, has been around for centuries, and originated first in China and later in Italy. We know this noisy tradition as “fireworks.”

China takes credit for the invention of fireworks thousands of years ago. But the Italians invented the aerial shell which is the element that makes our modern sky-show exhibitions so colorful.

Most contemporary fireworks displays use aerial shells, which are said by some to look like ice cream cones. Italian pyrotechnicians developed and perfected their shell designs in the 1830s, placing fuel in a cone bottom with a “scoop” that contains either an outer layer of pyrotechnic stars or tiny balls filled with chemicals that will produce the desired colors. The final element is an inner bursting charge that detonates the fireworks themselves.

As time progressed and technology improved, Italians also mastered the art of using metallic powders that allow them to create specific colors. Thus, you could say that on special occasions and holidays, the Italians have become the “Michelangelos” the heavens.

Independence Day fireworks display in Washington, DC. (Image, circa 2010, adapted from U.S. National Park Service photo.)

Back in the Far East, as early as 200 B.C., the Chinese were using firecrackers as a means of scaring off potential invaders. By writing on green bamboo stalks and heating them on coals to dry, the Chinese discovered that if left on the heat too long, the wood expanded and then burst making a huge bang in the process.

Before long, the Chinese discovered that these unusually loud noises would scare away mountain men as well a the perception of evil spirits. Hence the firecracker was born and later became a popular means of celebration during festive occasions.

Today, no grand celebration of any kind anywhere in the world would be complete without fireworks, and the Fourth of July in the United States would is a perfect example.

About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

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