Vintage July 4th: How Americans celebrated Independence Day long ago

Vintage July 4th postcard c1900s

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Vintage July 4th: How Americans used to celebrate the holiday

Curious about how Americans celebrated July 4th in its earliest years? Discover the evolution of Independence Day festivities from 1795 to 1895.

From modest gatherings and heartfelt speeches to grand parades and fireworks displays, our forefathers found unique ways to honor the nation’s birth.

Join us below for a collection of media and memorabilia showing the traditions and celebrations that marked the 4th of July during the 18th and 19th centuries!

Forefathers’ 4th in 1795 (from 1895)

St. Paul Daily Globe (St. Paul, Minn.) June 30, 1895

How the great day was celebrated a hundred years ago

Customs of old times / Powder and firecrackers were expensive and the noise small / Feasting was the order / Ladies looked on – a hall in the evening for all hands present

Forefathers' 4th in 1795 (from 1895)

Our forefathers of three generations ago had a much more pleasant method of celebrating the glorious Fourth than the advanced and cultured urchin of today employs in paying tribute to his dear old Uncle Samuel.

On Thursday next, the nation will be plunged in a hysterical vortex of booming, snapping, thundering, cracking and crashing sounds.

Perhaps if the bold signers of the Declaration of Independence could have known what they were inflicting upon posterity they might have paused before affixing their signatures to that noble document.

Look back at how Americans have celebrated July 4th over the years 1795

Contrasted with the violent celebration of this up-to-date age, the Fourth of July of sixty, seventy or one hundred years ago presents a peaceful picture of hearty patriotism, more in keeping with the real sentiment of the event than the present blustering fashion.

History of the American flag (3)

Pennsylvania’s Independence Day in 1818 (from 1895)

For instance, here is the way the people of Germantown, Penn., celebrated the Fourth of July of 1818.

There were three cannon in the little town which had done service both in the Revolution and in the War of 1812.

Several days before the Fourth, the ladies of the place boiled hams, roasted suckling pigs whole, baked pies by the dozen and biscuits by the hundred, made all manner of cake, generously filled with jam, and on the morning of the great day deposited the good things with the proprietor of the best tavern of the town.

It was the province of that important man to feed all the men and boys of the place and surrounding country with the provender supplied by their wives and daughters.

Huge tables, rough but solid, were set on the village green, as there were no buildings in those days large enough to accommodate such a great congregation of people.

Early in the morning, the young men of the place had fired off the cannons two or three times, as official notice that the Fourth of July had come again. Powder was none too cheap then, and it was needed for more practical purposes than making a noise, so the salutes were few in number.

At the noon hour, the whole community of the town met at the green where mine host of the tavern had already heaped up the tables with the good things provided. There were speeches and a prayer, and then the work of the day began.

Benches were placed on all sides of the tables, and the eaters sat as closely as possible. There was not enough room for all, and when one had eaten his fill his place was immediately taken by some hungry citizen who had patiently been waiting his turn.

The war heroes of the Revolution and of 1812 were given first chance at the provender and also the seats of honor at the heads of the tables.

July 4th 1776 – Proclaim Liberty (1893)

Woven souvenir from the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Liberty Bell is at the top with the inscription: “July 4th 1776 Proclaim Liberty.”

Just below: “The Bell that on a Glorious Morn Proclaimed to the World America is Free!!!” (Courtesy Smithsonian Institution)

July 4th 1776 - Proclaim Liberty (1893) Ribbon banner

Collier’s weekly journal of current events, Fourth-of-July number (1901)

Collier's weekly journal of current events, Fourth-of-July number 1901

Reading of the Declaration of Independence from the Old State House in Boston, Massachusetts, July 18, 1776

Postcard from the 1930s-1940s

Reading of the Declaration of Independence from the Old State House, July 18, 1776 - 1940s postcard


Note: Reading the Declaration of Independence from the balcony of the Old State House in Boston just like they did in July 1776 is a vintage July 4th tradition that is still upheld to this day!

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