The Fourth of July in the Nation’s Capital



The Fourth of July – the date that the Second Continental Congress approved the final wording of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence – is a well known date in our nation’s history.[1] How we began to celebrate and commemorate the fourth of July – and all the dates attached to the colonies declaring independence from Britain – is less well remembered (you can learn more about the key dates surrounding the Fourth of July here).

Beginning in 1777, citizens began commemorating the holiday with public readings of the Declaration of Independence and fireworks.[2] Philadelphia’s celebrations inspired local observations across the country with bonfires, family gatherings, picnics, parades, and games.[3] After the War of 1812 celebrations grew more prevalent. In 1870 Congress established the date as a federal holiday, making the Fourth of July one of the largest secular holidays in the United States.[4]

The District of Columbia is home to its own local celebrations and traditions around the Fourth of July. Past June and July issues of local Washington newspaper the Washington Star (1852-1981) provide examples of how the Fourth was remembered over the years: in 1853 you could take one of four boat tours from the White House to Mount Vernon for 75 cents.[5] There are also the ubiquitous fireworks – for a comical take on the risks of Roman candles see this 1941 Washington Star article by Henry McLemore (“Sometimes it is three weeks after the Fourth before a man can use his cigarette lighter without holding it at arm’s length for fear a ball of fire will run up his coat sleeve.”).[6]

Want to explore more of D.C.’s local Fourth of July celebrations? You can do so through our online collections – a sampling of images from Fourth of July parades in Takoma Park circa 1920 are above (General Photograph Collection, CHS 06040, CHS 06432, CHS 06433, CHS 06041). The D.C. Public Library’s digital collections – DIGDC – include a 1916 Fourth of July parade in Petworth, among other images including political Fourth of July commentary from the Washington Post and Washington Star cartoonist Clifford Berryman (creator of the iconic “teddy bear” in association with President Theodore Roosevelt[7]) some of which are also in our collection.


[1] “The History of America’s Independence Day,” A Capitol Fourth, , accessed June 28, 2017,

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] “Today in History – July 4.” The Library of Congress. Accessed June 28, 2017.

[5] Evening Star, June 25, 1853: 2, accessed June 28, 2017,

[6] Evening Star, July 04, 1941: 7, accessed June 28, 2017,

[7] “Running for Office.” National Archives and Records Administration. Accessed June 28, 2017.”Running for Office.” National Archives and Records Administration. Accessed June 28, 2017.