We all know that the Declaration of Independence was adopted in Philadelphia, that Abraham Lincoln was tall, and that John F. Kennedy Jr. said, Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country. But there are literally thousands of great American-history facts that we don’t know about . Here’s a grab bag of twenty:
1. The shortest inaugural address in U.S. history -- 135 words -- was given in 1793 by George Washington. His dentures hurt, and he wanted to get it over with.
2. George Washington was also quite an alcohol manufacturer. In 1798 alone, he produced 11,000 gallons of whiskey.
3. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the great explorers of the Northwest, gave President Thomas Jefferson two bear cubs. Jefferson kept his new pets on the South Lawn of the White House.
4. Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning rod, but he didn’t stop there. He’s also credited for the urinary catheter.
5. Abigail Adams, foreshadowing later feminists like Susan B. Anthony, tartly reminded her husband John, our second President: "Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors [were]. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands."
6. During the election of 1828, politics got personal when Andrew Jackson’s opponents called him a jackass. He gleefully adopted the image for the Democratic Party.
7. Like the Democratic donkey, the Republican party symbol was born out of mockery. In 1874, the satirical cartoonist Thomas Nast drew an elephant and labeled it “the Republican vote.”
8. Chester Alan Arthur, who served as Chief Executive from 1881-1885, had an extremely futuristic nickname: The Dude President.
9. Although the Red Cross isn’t a government agency, it does have a Congressional charter. The nation’s legislators granted it in 1900, giving the Red Cross responsibility for disaster relief and for help to the military and their families.
10. There have been eight left-handed presidents: James A. Garfield, Herbert Hoover, Harry S. Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.
11. William H. Taft was the first president to submit a national budget.
12. Elijah McCoy, an African-American man, invented a device to keep train wheels oiled while the train was running. Others tried similar devices, but his was the best – and that’s the origination of the phrase The Real McCoy.
13. John F. Kennedy. was the only president to die before his parents.
14. The U.S. first wanted to build a canal in Nicaragua, not Panama. But the French tried unsuccessfully to build a canal through Panama and then sold the rights to the U.S.
15. The first and probably only trial of a tomato was held in 1820, in Salem, NJ. Robert Johnson ate an entire basket in front of a crowd who was convinced he was going to die right away. He didn’t, although it's safe to assume that he had a stomach ache.
16. Thirty-eight thousand black men served in the Civil War.
17. Who besides America was born on the Fourth of July? Louis Armstrong, the greatest of all Jazz musicians, always said he had a July 4th birthday. Broadway song and dance man George M. Cohan, who wrote Yankee Doodle Dandy and Over There, also said he was born on Independence Day. Others include song writer Stephen Foster who wrote “Dixie”, President Calvin Coolidge, playwright Neil Simon, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, and advice-givers Ann Landers and her twin sister Abigail Van Buren. And Malia Obama!
18. Fourth of July fireworks have a long and honorable tradition. They were first used in July 1776 and may have been meant as a mockery of the tradition of fireworks for British royalty.
19. Once upon a time, we didn’t have an actual July 4 holiday. Although Americans celebrated it informally, it wasn’t an official day off until 1941.
20. What’s on the back of the Declaration of Independence? People who have seen the movie "National Treasure" want to know. Well, on the back, at the bottom, upside-down, is simply written: "Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776." According to the National Archives, "While no one knows for certain who wrote it, it is known that early in its life, the large parchment document was rolled up for storage. So, it is likely that the notation was added simply as a label." Sorry, there are no hidden messages.
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