Contrary to the prevailing impression put forth by American media conglomerates, the fourth day of July isn’t just the anniversary of 13 former British colonies telling King George III of England to go suck eggs by virtue of their Declaration of Independence. Lots of other things have happened on that day of the year.

To start, July 4th has auspicious literary credentials beyond the aforementioned Declaration. On that date in 1845, Henry David Thoreau began his two-year stint of ascetic living on the banks of Walden Pond, during which he wrote one of the most influential transcendentalist texts ever put to paper, Walden. Ten years later, the first edition of Walt Whitman’s seminal poetry collection, Leaves of Grass, was first published. Stepping outside the confines of the United States, on July 4, 1862, an Englishman by the name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson began to tell a fantastical story to one Alice Liddell, aged 10, whilst on a rowing trip. Three years later, on July 4, 1865, a revised version of that tale was published by Dodgson under the pen name Lewis Carroll. He called the book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Scientifically, July 4th can lay claim to even more prominence. Light from one of the most powerful supernovae ever observed by human civilization reached Earth on July 4, 1054, when Chinese astronomers saw the formation of the Crab Nebula. The fourth day of July is also the date that Leo Szilard patented the process of a nuclear fission chain reaction (1934); it’s the date the NASA Pathfinder probe and its robot rover, Sojourner, touched down on the surface of Mars (1997); and it’s the date the Deep Impact collider intercepted comet Tempel 1 (2005).

Even in American political history, there are numerous events besides the Declaration that can lay claim to July 4, though — to be fair — many of them were planned to be concurrent with Independence Day for symbolic purposes. That said, births and deaths are by and large unplanned, and four U.S. Presidents died or were born on July 4th. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson famously died the same day on July 4, 1826, and James Monroe followed suit in 1831. Four decades later, future President Calvin Coolidge was born on July 4, 1872.

Perhaps most tellingly, despite our obsession with the Fourth of July, the United States falls short in one unassailable measure of devotion to this date: We’ve never had more than one July 4th in a given year, whereas another country can claim otherwise.


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In 1892, the King of Samoa was persuaded by Western trading interests to “relocate” his nation to the opposite side of the then-not-universally-adopted International Date Line. The result of the switch — which occurred at the end of the day on Monday, July 4 — was that Samoa effectively observed the same calendar date on two consecutive days. Thus, two July 4ths.

(Incidentally, 1892 was a leap year, so Samoa’s 1892 calendar actually had 367 days, the longest year ever observed by any country employing the modern Gregorian calendar.)

The screwy thing about the International Date Line is that it isn’t actually a line. It’s really more of an erratic zigzag, as various nations and regions declare their respective territories to reside on one side of the line or the other. Thus, since (ignoring plate tectonics) real estate doesn’t often move, the International Date Line does, bolting wildly East or West to accommodate these political timekeeping assertions. While the line generally follows 180 degrees longitude — directly opposite the Prime Meridian — an actual map of the International Date Line looks more like an integrated circuit diagram than a rational cartographic image.

In fact, so skewed is the International Date Line in some places that, for two hours of  Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) every day, there are three calendar days observed on Earth, rather than the usual two. This is due in part to the Republic of Kiribati — a nation composed of 32 islands covering more than a million square miles of ocean — maintaining all of its territories under the same date, despite covering an area that straddles multiple standard time zones adjacent to the International Date Line. Similar accommodations are made for the Aleutian Islands, but in the opposite direction.

Throw in some equally nonstandard time zones instigated because some nations want their entire territory on the same timeframe, regardless of their actual position, and the hours of 10:00-11:59 UTC can see three different dates observed within a few hundred miles of the International Date Line.

Still, if these geopolitical shenanigans gave the tiny nation of Samoa an extra helping of July 4th a century ago, it was all worth it. It is, after all, not just a crafty chronological quirk, it’s a dazing double dose of Independence Day Geek Trivia.

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