Forget everything you learned in school. It’s time for a new lesson in U.S. history! Here are ten little-known facts about America.
10. A Boy Scout Designed the American Flag
We were always taught that Betsy Ross made the American flag. But, according to the Colonial Williamsburg Official History & Citizenship Site, there isn’t much evidence to support that claim. Still, she’s often credited with making the first American flag. However, the 50-star flag we pledge allegiance to now was the brainchild of a boy scout from Lancaster, Ohio.
Bob Heft was a junior in high school when his U.S. history teacher handed out a homework assignment that led to him redesigning Old Glory. The year was 1958, and Alaska and Hawaii had yet to achieve statehood. It was no secret, however, that they were soon going to become the 49th and 50th states. So, Heft decided to design a new version of the then 48-star flag to include Alaska and Hawaii. His teacher wasn’t thrilled. ‘The teacher said, ‘What’s this thing on my desk?’ And so I got up and I approached the desk and my knees were knocking,” Heft told StoryCorps. “He said, ‘Why, you got too many stars? You don’t even know how many states we have.” Consequently, he received a B- on his assignment.
So, just exactly how did his design end up being our official flag? Because Heft was so upset about his grade, his teacher told him that if he could get Washington to accept it, he’d think about changing his grade… And, that’s just what he did. After two years and lots of phone calls and letters, Heft received a call from President Eisenhower who invited him to Washington D.C. for the adoption of the nation’s new flag–the flag that Heft had designed. As for that B-, it was changed to an A.
FUN FACT: Heft’s tombstone is in the shape of the American flag and reads “Designer of America’s 50-Star Flag”.
9. Pennsylvania is Spelled with Only One “N”
At least it was back when the nation was first founded. If you look at the part of the Constitution where the signatures appear, you’ll see that the state is spelled “Pensylvania.” It’s also spelled that way on the Liberty Bell. According to the National Science Foundation, “Pensylvania” was one of several acceptable spellings at the time. So, the next time your teacher tells you that you’ve misspelled Pennsylvania, just point him or her in the direction of the Liberty Bell or the U.S. Constitution, lol!
FUN FACT: Benjamin Franklin used to mix up the spelling on money to foil would-be counterfeiters.
8. Virginia: The Mother of Presidents …and a Few First Ladies, Too
It’s no surprise that Virginia was the birthplace of eight U.S. Presidents. But, did you know that several first ladies hailed from Virginia as well? They are as follows:
-Martha Washington, wife of our first president, was born at Chestnut Grove Plantation in New Kent County, VA
-Rachel Jackson, wife of Andrew Jackson, was born near Chatham in Pittsylvania County, VA
-Letitia Tyler, wife of John Tyler, was born at Cedar Grove Plantation in New Kent County, VA
-Ellen Arthur, wife of Chester Arthur, was born in Culpeper County, VA
-Edith Wilson, wife of Woodrow Wilson, was born in Wytheville, VA
7. Independence Day is Actually on July 2
According to the National Archives, we should celebrate Independence Day two days earlier than we normally do. That’s because the Continental Congress voted for independence on July 2, 1776, not July 4, 1776. In fact, John Adams noted in his writings that “July 2 would be remembered in the annals of American history and would be marked with fireworks and celebrations,” according to the National Archives. However, the Declaration of Independence was dated July 4, so that’s the date that was chosen for us to celebrate.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Declaration of Independence wasn’t actually signed until August 2, 1776.
6. The Highest Court in the Land is a Basketball Court
The Supreme Court of the United States is often referred to as the highest court in the nation. But, there’s another court even higher than that: the Supreme Court’s basketball court. Believe it or not, the basketball court is actually named “The Highest Court in the Land.” It sits on the fifth floor of the U.S. Supreme Court Building–one floor above the courtroom. At one time it was used a storage room, but it was eventually converted into a workout room for courthouse employees. FYI, the basketball court is not open to the public.
5. English is Not the Official Language of the U.S.
In fact, the U.S. has no official language at all. “The Founding Fathers didn’t see a need to declare one,” Dr. Wayne Wright, a professor of language and literacy at Purdue University, told CNN. “English was pretty much the dominant language of the United States at the time so there really wasn’t a need to protect it. And they didn’t want to offend their fellow Americans who helped fight for independence.”
-Common languages spoken throughout the thirteen original colonies included French, German, and Dutch.
-In 1981, U.S. Senator Samuel Hayakawa (R-CA) introduced an amendment to establish English as the nation’s official language, but it failed.
–Spanish has never been a foreign language in America.
4. “Yankee Doodle” is a State Song
Who would’ve thought that that song we used to sing in elementary school was actually a state song. It’s the state song of Connecticut, to be exact. What’s even more unusual is that this song was originally intended to poke fun at New England soldiers during the Revolutionary War. This ruffled the feathers of the Americans, so they changed the words to poke fun at British soldiers. “The song boosted the soldiers’ morale and was a source of pride for the American soldiers,” according to AmericasLibrary.gov.
3. Cereal Was Invented in the U.S.
Not only was cereal invented in America, it was invented by accident. John Harvey Kellogg, a New York University medical graduate who was in charge of the Battle Creek (Michigan) Sanitarium, invented what we know today as corn flakes. The cereal began as a digestive aid for Kellogg’s patients.
-The flakes were originally made out of wheat until 1906.
-Shredded Wheat, which was a big hit at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, was the inspiration behind the invention.
-One of Kellogg’s patients was C.W. Post, the inventor of Post Cereals.
-Kellogg opened a cereal-themed park in Battle Creek called Cereal City. Its purpose was to keep corporate spies posing as tourists out of the Kellogg plants.
2. The Statue of Liberty Went By Another Name
To many, this national monument is known as the “Statue of Liberty” or “Lady Liberty.” But, according to the National Park Service, the original name of the Statue of Liberty was “Liberty Enlightening the World.” Also undergoing a name change was the island where the statue was placed. The statue site approved by Congress in February 1877 was known as Bedloe’s Island. It was renamed Liberty Island in 1956.
FUN FACT: The seven spikes on Lady Liberty’s crown represent the world’s seven continents and seven seas, and conveys the idea of universal freedom.
1. The Great Seal of the United States Almost Caused a War
The front of the Great Seal shows a bald eagle holding 13 arrows (signifying war) in its left talon and an olive branch (signifying peace) in its right talon. But, mixing those up can send the wrong message. That’s just what happened when these symbols were inadvertently switched in the early 1800s. When our silver coins showed eagles with the arrows in the right talon instead of the left, some Europeans took it as a sign of belligerence. For them, it was a green light to promote war with the U.S. As a result, a new design was created for the coins, with the olive branch in the right talon instead.
And that’s our history lesson for today. Thanks for paying attention kiddos, and remember, knowledge is power! Happy learning!