Did you know New York City has the biggest fireworks display in the United States and that three U.S. presidents died on July 4?
While the Fourth of July saw the death of three of the first five U.S. presidents—John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1826 and James Monroe in 1831—Calvin Coolidge was the only chief executive born on Independence Day. The 30th president was born on July 4, 1872, in the small hamlet of Plymouth Notch, Vermont. While serving as vice president, Coolidge was at the family homestead in the early morning hours of August 3, 1923, when the shocking news of the sudden death of President Warren G. Harding arrived. By the light of a kerosene lamp in the family’s parlor, Coolidge’s father administered the oath of office to his son.
The famed American novelist was born Nathaniel Hathorne on July 4, 1804, in Salem, Massachusetts. Throughout his youth, the writer was haunted by the leading role played by his great-great-grandfather, John Hathorne, in the Salem witch trials. Ashamed of his family history, the author of “The Scarlet Letter” added a “w” to his last name to disassociate himself from a figure of whom he wrote was “so conspicuous in the martyrdom of the witches, that their blood may fairly be said to have left a stain upon him.”
The renowned American songwriter was born exactly 50 years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1826, in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania. The “father of American music” wrote more than 200 songs, and tunes such as “Oh! Susanna,” “Camptown Races,” “Old Folks at Home” (better known as “Swanee River”) and “My Old Kentucky Home” remain popular today. Although many of Stephen Foster’s songs are associated with the South, the composer visited the region only once during his life. In spite of his success, sheet music publishers pocketed most of the profits from his songs, and Foster died in the charity ward of New York’s Bellevue Hospital at the age of 37.
Born in San Francisco on July 4, 1883, Rube Goldberg studied engineering at the University of California and designed sewer pipes for the city of San Francisco before taking a job as a newspaper cartoonist. Goldberg frequently lampooned society’s obsession with technology, and his most famous creation was the cartoon character Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts, who concocted unnecessarily complicated contraptions to perform simple tasks. The cartoonist became so connected with these overdesigned machines that he is one of the few people whose name is not only a noun, but an adjective as well. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “Rube Goldberg” as “doing something simple in a very complicated way that is not necessary.” Often overlooked is that Goldberg won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for his editorial cartoons.
Bombastic New York Yankees owner George Michael Steinbrenner III was born into a wealthy shipping family on July 4, 1930, near Cleveland, Ohio. Steinbrenner joined the family business in 1957 and grew it so substantially that he was able to head an investment group that bought baseball’s most famous franchise for less than $10 million in 1973. Although he initially pledged to “stick to building ships,” the man nicknamed “the Boss” proved to be a hands-on owner who spent freely and clashed repeatedly with players, executives and managers. Until Steinbrenner’s death in 2010, the Yankees won seven World Series championships and 11 American League pennants under his ownership.
Best known from Tom Cruise’s portrayal of him in the 1989 movie “Born on the Fourth of July,” Vietnam veteran and anti-war activist Ron Kovic was born in Wisconsin on July 4, 1946. Kovic joined the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating from high school and was deployed in 1965 to fight in the Vietnam War. On his second tour of duty in 1968, Kovic was leading an attack when he was struck by enemy fire and left paralyzed from the chest down. After returning home to the United States, Kovic became a peace activist and an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War and the poor conditions inside America’s veterans’ hospitals. Kovic’s best-selling autobiography, “Born on the Fourth of July,” was published in 1976 and adapted into the film that captured two Academy Awards.
Born in Sioux City, Iowa, on July 4, 1918, Esther “Eppie” Lederer was better known to millions of Americans by her pseudonym, Ann Landers. The journalist penned a gossip column for her college newspaper but received her big break by winning a contest in 1955 to succeed the late Chicago Sun-Times advice columnist Ruth Crowley as the author of the “Ask Ann Landers” feature. Syndicated in more than 1,000 newspapers over the course of nearly 50 years, Ann Landers became one of North America’s best-known advice columnists, although she faced competition from an unlikely source, her twin sister also born on the Fourth of July, Pauline Phillips, who wrote the Dear Abby advice column. The two sisters—who had attended the same college and held a joint marriage ceremony—had a lengthy estrangement as a result of their newspaper rivalry.
Born on July 4, 1943, in New York City, the television personality first served as an investigator with the New York City Police Department before entering law school. While practicing law in New York, Geraldo Rivera was offered a job as a television reporter by the local ABC affiliate. His undercover reports exposing the neglect and abuse of patients with intellectual disabilities at New York’s Willowbrook School earned him national attention and spots on ABC’s national news programs. As host of “Good Night America” in 1975, Rivera broadcast the Zapruder Film, which captured the assassination of John F. Kennedy, for the first time on national television. His infamous 1986 broadcast of the opening of gangster Al Capone’s vault yielded only a few broken bottles and no hidden loot. After hosting a daytime talk show for more than a decade, Rivera joined the Fox News Channel in 2001.