Fun Facts for a Festive Fourth

The population of the US has risen from 2.5 million on July 4, 1776 to an estimated 302 million on the same date in 2007. Many will enjoy fireworks displays to commemorate Independence Day, many of which will originate in the country that is credited with inventing fireworks. Chinese exports of fireworks topped $201 million in 2005. These will be supplemented with some US-manufactured fireworks--2002 shipments totaled $17.3 million.

For those who enjoy fireworks for the spectacle, copper salts account for the blue hue, aluminum and magnesium go for the gold, barium salts burn green, strontium salts rage red, aluminum and magnesium glow white, and sodium salts mellow yellow. Italian fireworks makers get credit for adding trace amounts of metals to create the colors. To deepen the colors, calcium is added. Titanium makes sparks, and zinc creates smoke clouds.

The displays clearly cover a plethora of hazard classifications during transportation, but the vast majority of hazardous materials shipments in the US move without incident. Not so with the fireworks that end up in the hands of the public. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 8,500 fireworks-related emergency room visits in 1999. The number of injuries (physical and emotional) to people and pets is unknown.

John Adams wrote to his wife that Independence Day should be celebrated “by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other,” and that has certainly happened. Each of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence risked his life by committing what was, at the time, an act of treason against Britain. John Hancock’s signature is clearly the most prominent on the document. He is credited with saying, “There, I guess King George will be able to read that.”

Announcing the Declaration and noting that the Continental Congress was sure to pass it even as British troops were advancing towards New York, Abraham Clark is quoted as saying, “It is gone so far that we must now be a free, independent state or a conquered country.”

While indulging in their hard-won freedoms, Americans will consume a perennial favorite, the hot dog. In fact, July is National Hot Dog Month, no doubt in recognition of the 155 million “tube steaks” that will be consumed at Independence Day picnics. That’s only a small portion of the 7 billion eaten between Memorial Day and Labor Day. (That’s an average of 60 hot dogs per person per year.)

Adults prefer mustard on their hot dogs, children choose ketchup. The Sausage Council urges, always spread your condiments on the hot dog, not the bun. Start with the wet, followed by the chunky (relish or onions) and then cheese, and top it all off with any added spices.

There’s also plenty of music to carry the spirit of the holiday. On the hard rock side, there’s the Jimi Hendrix version of The Star Spangled Banner (a recording of which was played at the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum on another holiday weekend--Labor Day 1995). There’s also God Bless America, performed by Celine Dion or America the Beautiful performed by Ray Charles and countless other musical choices in between.

Thanks to the US Census Bureau and Fact Monster for their compilations of facts and figures.

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