30 Significant Historical Events That Happened on July 4

In the future, we may need an entire history book for this day alone.

30 Significant Historical Events That Happened on July 4

July 4th is among the most vaunted days of the year. But Independence Day—with all its grilling and fireworks and patriotic hoopla—is but one of the day’s raisons d’être.

Political chess moves that reshaped the geopolitical landscape overnight. Scientific discovery that pushed humanity in a markedly different direction. Countries (yes, plural; we’re not the only ones) achieving independence. July 4th has it all. In the future, we’ll need an entire history book—perhaps even an entire undergraduate lecture—just to parse through the sheer significance of the day. Herein is a glimpse into what such a curriculum might look like. And for more on this blockbuster of a holiday, learn the 20 July Fourth Traditions Foreigners Will Never Understand.

harriet tubman statue

1827: Slavery Abolished in New York City

New York once had the second largest slave population in the United States. While the state had passed a law shortly following the Revolutionary War ordering the gradual abolition of slavery, the last slaves were not freed until July 4, 1827. This paved the way for eventual abolition of slavery in all land under U.S. jurisdiction (though, yes, there was a civil war somewhere in the middle there). And if you need to brush up on your high school American History class, don’t miss 20 United States Civic Studies Lessons You Forgot.

Mississippi river

1803: The Louisiana Purchase

To be sure, The Louisiana Purchase Treaty was actually signed on April 30, 1803. But it wasn’t announced to the American people until more than a month later: on July 4th. (The paperwork didn’t arrive in Washington, D.C., until July 14th.) And for more historically-oriented coverage, bone up on 30 Crazy Facts That Will Change Your View of History.


1946: Philippines’ Independence from the U.S.

The Treaty of Manila of 1946 was signed on July 4th of that year, ending U.S. sovereignty of the country and formally establishing the independence of the Republic of the Philippines, which went on to become a founding member of both the United Nations and the World Trade Organization.

spartan temple

362 B.C.E.: The Second Battle of Mantinea

In this historic battle, the Thebans defeated the Spartans. However, the Theban leader Epaminondas and his successors were all killed in the clash, and the Theban’s weakened state opened the doors for eventual centuries of Mediterranean-spanning Macedonian rule.

geneva convention

2012: Announcement of Higgs Boson Discovery

The existence of the particle known as the Higgs Boson was theorized in the ‘60s, but on July 4th, 2012, the discovery of a new particle with a mass between 125 and 127 GeV/c2 was announced. Scientists believe the particle to be the Higgs Boson, and indeed, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the exalted laboratory whose researchers initially made the discovery, has published several papers affirming the belief in the years since.

The discovery is of critical importance to the field of particle physics, and can conceivably help us figure out the fundamental properties of how mass works, how matter decays, and—in the most near-unbelievably optimistic scenarios—how the sun creates such limitless caches of energy. And for more mind-boggling science coverage, learn the 20 Long-Predicted Technologies That Are Never Going to Happen.

president lyndon b johnson

1966: The Freedom of Information Act is Signed into Law

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 4, 1966, sparking a love-hate relationship with journalists, researchers, and statisticians alike. The FOIA mandates the disclosure of certain information held by the United States Government, and today allows the general public to request crime data, trial and court history transcript, investigative reports, and more. And for more on American liberty, don’t miss 23 Freedoms Americans Totally Take for Granted.

stars, supernova

1054: Discovery of Supernova SN 1054

You may have heard of the Crab Nebula—or the Messier 1, as it’s sometimes called. (It’s found in the constellation Taurus, and is among the more breathtaking celestial sights.) The nebula is a six-light-year-wide remnant from a violent supernova explosion that was first discovered and recorded by Chinese astronomers on July 4, nearly a thousand years ago, making it one of the first indications that there’s more to the universe than our lonely planet. These Chinese astronomers recorded seeing a “guest star” (now known to be a supernova) in the heavens. It shone so bright that it was visible even during the day for nearly an entire month.

henry thoreau success quotes

1845: Thoreau Moves into a Small Cabin on Walden Pond

On July 4, 1845, Henry David Thoreau moved into a small cabin near Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. It was here that Thoreau wrote his first published works. Walden, one of the more famous pieces, was a documentation of his new-found simplistic lifestyle, and later played a key role in the environmental movement.


1120: Anointing of Prince Jordan II of Capua

Jordan II was anointed Prince of Capua on the 4th of July, 1120. Jordan II was not expected to ascend to the throne. But the two ahead of him in the royal line, his brother Richard II and his infant nephew, unexpectedly died a month before his anointing. Many historians believe that Jordan II had something to do with their untimely deaths.


1934: Leó Szilárd Patents the Atomic Bomb

Though the letter that resulted in the Manhattan Project wasn’t written until 1939, Leó Szilárd patented the idea of a nuclear reactor along with Enrico Fermi in 1934.


1918: The Bolsheviks Kill the Royal Family

The Bolsheviks were a large political party in Russia and were a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, and later became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The Bolsheviks were responsible for the deaths of Tsar Nicholas II and his family just a year after their forced abdication from the Russian Empire.


1997: Pathfinder Lands on Mars

NASA’s Pathfinder was the first rover to go beyond the moon. It’s just fitting that it landed on Mars and began its mission on Independence Day of 1997.

amelia airheart

1927: The Maiden Flight of the Lockheed Vega

In 1927, the Lockheed Corporation built the Lockheed Vega, a six-passenger monoplane designed for long range. Its first light on Independence Day began an important chapter in the history of the world. It was in this aircraft that Amelia Earhart made her famous flight across the Atlantic, and it was with this aircraft that Wiley Post proved the existence of the jet stream.

wittiest put downs

1862: The Inception of Alice in Wonderland

On July 4, 1862, an obscure, religious, and unmarried mathematics lecturer named Charles Lutwidge Dodgson set out on a river excursion in a row boat. Dodgson, who went by the pen name Lewis Carroll, was joined by the three young daughters of Dean Henry Liddell. The girls begged for him to tell them a story as they floated down the Isis River. Dodgson obliged, spinning the youngest, Alice Liddell, into the story. Thus, Alice in Wonderland was born.

Mark Twain One-Liners

1863: The End of the Southern Invasion

July 4, 1863, marks the day the end of the Battle of Gettysburg, the deadliest battle of the American Civil War. Having accepted defeat, the Army of Northern Virginia left the battlefield, sparking the changing-tides turning point of the war.


1996: Hotmail Goes Live

Hotmail was one of the first electronic mail providers, and allowed the revolutionary idea of accessing your account from anywhere in the world. It’s name stems from the letters HTML, and it was famous for offering 2MB of free storage. Today, Gmail offers 15GB. And for some advice on making use of that far-greater amount of space, learn the 17 Genius Email Hacks That Will Improve Your Life.

space frenzy

2005: The Deep Impact Collider Hits the Comet Tempel 1

The Deep Impact mission was the first of its kind. Comets had been photographed and studied previously in “fly-by” missions, but resulting information was limited. The Deep Impact probe’s mission was to collide with the Comet Tempel 1, to gain more insight and understanding of the comet. The collision took place on July 4, 2005, leading to a greater understanding of the solar system—and the rest of space.

rube goldberg gender reveal

1883: Birth of Rube Goldberg

Reuben Garrett Lucius Goldberg was the first president and one of the founders of the National Cartoonists Society. But he is best known for his eccentric cartoons of unnecessarily complicated machines meant to complete simple tasks—for example: a forty-step series of levers and pulleys that ultimately lead to something as simple as, say, turning on the faucet. These are now known as Rube Goldberg machines.


1892: The Year July 4th Came Twice

The year 1892 was a leap year, so it had 366 days instead of the typical 365. However, Western Samoa made a change that year to its time zone, thus shifting where the country falls with the International Date Line. As a result, in 1892, Western Samoa had two Independence Days back-to-back, for a total of 367 calendar days that year.

jack johnson

1910: Jack Johnson K.O.s Jim Jefferies

Race riots sprung up all of the country when African-American boxer Jack Johnson knocked out the white heavyweight champion Jim Jefferies.

iowa capitol

1838: Iowa Territory is Organized

The original Iowa Territory was actually comprised of modern-day Iowa, Minnesota, and more than half of the Dakotas. The southeastern portion of the Iowa Territory was not accepted into the Union as a state until 1846.

lou gehrig stamp als

1939: Lou Gehrig Announces His Retirement

Lou Gehrig, or “the Iron Horse,” is one of the most exalted Baseball Hall of Famers of all time. Gehrig played for the all 17 seasons of his career and was the first player to have his number retired by a team—an honor well-deserved, given his six World Series Championships and seven consecutive All-Star titles. On July 4, 1939, shortly after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (which you know may know more colloquially as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Gehrig announced his retirement to the sold-out crowd of Yankee Stadium, famously calling himself, “The luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

Betsy Ross and the Flag

1831: “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” first performed

The theology student Samuel Francis Smith wrote the lyrics to “America” (as the song was first named) in 1831 by request from his friend Lowell Mason. Impressively, the lyrics only took Smith 30 minutes to write, and were put to the melody of the national anthem in the United Kingdom, “God Save the Queen.” The song was performed at an Independence Day Celebration that year in Boston, Massachusetts.

American Flag

1960: The American Flag Finally Receives its 50th Star

Though Hawaii was officially named a state in August of the previous year, the 50th star did not appear on the American flag until it was ceremoniously added on July 4th, 1960.

west point

1802: Military Academy at West Point Officially Opened

First announced by the newly minted president, Thomas Jefferson, a year earlier, the United States Military Academy (USMA) in West Point, New York, officially opened on July 4, 1802. In its early days, this now prestigious school had a rocky start. There was no strict curriculum or length of study, and the students ranged in age from 10 to a whopping 37 years old. Today, prospective students must apply and receive a high-ranking nomination to be accepted, and must participate in sports and extracurriculars nearly year-round.

statue stephen foster

1826: Stephen Foster is Born

Later nicknamed “the father of American music,” Stephen Foster was one of the great composers of parlor and minstrel music. Foster wrote hundreds of songs, but “Oh! Susanna” and “Beautiful Dreamer” are among his most well-known and time-tested.

bad puns

1826, 1831: The Deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and James Monroe

Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Monroe—the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th presidents of the United States, respectively—all died on July 4th. In fact, Jefferson and Adams both died on the same day: July 4, 1826. And for more on our nation’s fearless leaders, check out the 30 Craziest Things U.S. Presidents Have Done.

koko gorilla

1971: Koko the Gorilla’s Birthday

Koko the gorilla died last month, just before her 47th birthday. She was born on July 4, 1971, and is best known for learning to communicate using modified American Sign Language. Koko was loved and admired by scientists and zoo-goers in and outside of Woodside, California, where she lived, and even adopted (and apparently named) a pet kitten. Koko represented significant advancements in the way we study the behaviors of primates.

Bob Ross, whom you can channel to be happier.

1995: Death of Bob Ross

Oh the trees, fluffy clouds, poofy hair, and the “happy accident!”-loving Bob Ross had his final episode of The Joy of Painting air on May 17, 1994; he died on Independence Day of lymphoma a year later.

declaration of independence

1870: Independence Day First Celebrated as a Federal Holiday

Over the years prior, since that great day in 1776, the citizens of the United States held commemorative celebrations and festivities each year on July 4th. However, it wasn’t until June 28, 1870, that the United States government passed a law naming Independence Day a federal holiday. And for more distinctively American customs, don’t miss 20 American Summer Traditions That Foreigners Will Never Understand.

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