Cats, kids, and explosives! What could be more American?

Ah, the Fourth of July! That most American of holidays: enjoy a day off from work, relax with family and friends, cook meats on the grill, and then set off dangerous, but legal, fireworks in the evening. There’s no other holiday like it.

Greased Pig, Anyone?

Since my specialty is mid-to late 19th century social history, I’m sharing a bit about how our ancestors marked the Fourth of July. Did they celebrate with quiet reflection of what it means to be American? Apparently not.

After doing some research and reading, it seems that our fore-bearers celebrated much the same way we do, although with a bit more physical exertion and a lot more fireworks. They held all manner of activities, such as parades, bicycle races, picnics, and band concerts.

The following advertisements illustrate the wide range of activities and fun our great-grandparents enjoyed. Baseball (or Base Ball in the 19th century) seems to be pretty popular.  And you thought the Victorians were stuffy and boring. How would you like to spend your Fourth of July chasing a greased pig? On a side note, I once went to a country fair where I witnessed this event. Fun seemed to be had by all involved (well, maybe not the pig).

An advertisement from The Great Bend Weekly Tribune, Great Bend, KS. July 21, 1895
Ad found in The Philipsburg Mail, Philipsburg, Montana. June 13, 1889
Clipping from The Times -
The Times, Philadelphia, PA. July 4, 1890

An Explosive Celebration

fireworks_ad_Phila_1866 -
The Times, Philadelphia, PA. July 5, 1892

And they set off fireworks! Lots of fireworks! It seems fireworks during this era, like ours, were cheap and plentiful. Despite the very real danger of fire (especially in a time when most buildings were made of wood), every town seemed to have some sort of fireworks display, not just large cities like Philadelphia.

An article in The Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania), lists a myriad fireworks for July 4, 1899 and they sound dazzling.

Clipping from Reading Times -

Below is a snippet of copy from the above article from The Reading Times. It details all the wonderful fireworks available for purchase in Reading, Pennsylvania circa July, 1899.

“The Fourth of July Fireworks will be right up to date. There will be “Klondike Fountains”, “X-Ray Photographs”, “Old Harry’s Visiting Cards”, and “Money to Burn”.

I don’t know what any of those are, but I’d love to see them, wouldn’t you?

However you celebrate your Fourth of July, make it a safe and happy holiday. Don’t let those “Klondike Fountains” get you!

Jenn Ochman at the 2018 Fourth of July celebration in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.