The Fourth of July: what do you immediately think of? Fireworks? Red, white and blue everything? Life, liberty and a 12 pack of Bud Light? The holiday undoubtedly has a strong identity throughout the United States, and even other countries, with its own set of colors, activities, and food. In many ways, the Fourth of July has one of the strongest brand identities that has been collectively formed across the miles and years.
On the Fourth of July, it feels like we set aside our differences and go back to our roots to celebrate everything that is good about our country. But how similar is the Fourth of July’s brand now compared to when we first began celebrating it back in 1776?
Then and Now: National Symbols
In 1776, one of the most recognizable symbols of the United States did not yet exist. The American flag at the time did feature the classic stars and stripes, but instead of the 50 stars we know today, they had 13 stars in a circle for the 13 colonies. Likewise, “The Star-Spangled Banner” was over 30 years away from being written, and 155 years away from becoming the National Anthem. What was a popular American song at the time? Yankee Doodle.
Then and Now: Food
Speaking of Yankee Doodle, the line “stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni” has been a point of confusion for many, or simply considered an absurd line for an absurd children’s song. The term “macaroni” at the time actually meant sophisticated and worldly, as macaroni itself (the food) had just come over from Europe and was all the rage. Thomas Jefferson was a big fan of the pasta, and had it regularly ordered from Europe, once ordering 70 pounds of it within two months.
Other common favorites included oysters, which were plentiful along many of the coastal states, along with lobsters and other types of common wildlife like turkeys. John Adams reportedly loved turtle soup and boiled potatoes (doesn’t that just sound like a treat?) Most of these foods aren’t included in Fourth of July traditions at all now, as we now gravitate towards barbecue, potato salad, baked beans, and ice cream as traditional dinner staples.
Then and Now: Celebrations
We knew the Fourth of July was going to go down in history as a wild celebration from the very beginning, with John Adams saying “It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” Many of these traditions have stayed alive over the past 246 years. A tradition that hasn’t stood the test of time? Holding mock funerals for King George III to signify the end of his hold over the United States. We’ll stick with the sparklers, thank you very much.
The celebratory drink(s) of choice has also changed. On the Fourth of July in both 1778 and 1781, George Washington issued double rations of rum to the troops. Beer at the time was considered a regular drink for all, including women and children. Now we have a nearly overwhelming barrage of red white and blue vodkas, cocktails, punches, and more to choose from, although beer has remained a classic choice for many.
Then and Now: Outfits
Color is one of the cornerstones of brand identity. Walk into a store, in the month leading up to the Fourth of July, and you’re likely to find almost any article of clothing you can think of in patriotic hues. You want an American Flag shirt? We’ve got a dozen different styles. You want an American flag swimsuit? Got you covered there too. How about red white and blue shoes? Got them. Sunglasses? Without a doubt.
In 1776, American didn’t have quite the same selection. Supplies from England were no longer available (for obvious reasons), and so Americans turned to making and dying their own cloth. Women dressed in multiple layers of petticoats and wore dresses with tight bodices and elbow-length sleeves, and men sported knee breaches and waistcoats. Knowing Americans, some undoubtedly featured the colors of the new flag, but knowing their fabric situation at the time, the colors were undoubtedly not as vibrant as what we think of today.
Then and Now: Brand Reach
In 1776, an estimated 2.5 million people lived in America across 13 states. Now, there’s over 329 million people across 50 states that can join in the celebration. America has grown for many reasons, we certainly can’t credit it all to its excellent color scheme and Thomas Jefferson’s popularization of macaroni, but then again, no entity can attribute all of its success to its branding. It requires a mission, a constant commitment to improvement, to serving the people, and to finding a system that works to get you there. Branding’s important, but it should be able to evolve as the times change.
The Fourth of July has changed in many ways, and whether you’re celebrating it with friends at ye old tavern or at McDonalds, let’s remember what it stands for: celebrating liberty and justice for all.
USHistory.org/betsy/flagfact | history.com – star spangled banner | atlasobscura.com/articles/the-macaroni-in-yankee-doodle-is-not-what-you-think | monticello.org/site/research-and-collections-macaroni | huffpost.com/entry/july-4th-food-history | boston.com/news/local-newa/2015/07/02/why-fireworks-on-the-fourth-of-july-john-adams-thats-why | uvamagazine.org/articles/july_4th_the_fourth_of_july_paradox | history.com/topics/holidays/july-4th | varsitytutors.com/early-america-review/volume-6/alcohol-in-the-american-colonies | cornell.edu/ppeamericatex.htm | brilliantmaps.com/population-density-1775 | census.gov/popclock