Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of the Bicentennial, the yearlong 1976 celebration marking 200 years of the United States (officially the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.) The festivities culminated in the splashiest Fourth of July in history. Here’s a look back on how America looked back.
- Congress began planning the Bicentennial 10 years earlier, passing a resolution in July 1966 to create Expo ’76, a celebration of America’s birth to be held solely in the Revolutionary War-significant cities of Philadelphia or Boston. In 1973, the Expo ’76 plans were cancelled and replaced with a committee that would oversee hundreds of events in cities and towns across the country.
- The Bicentennial officially kicked off on April 1, 1975. The American Freedom Train departed Delaware for a 21-month tour of all 48 contiguous states. The train’s 10 cars contained relics of American history, such as the actual Louisiana Purchase document, Jesse Owens’ Olympic medals, George Washington’s personal copy of the Constitution, and a moon rock.
- No hard feelings: Queen Elizabeth II of the U.K. (from whom independence was declared in 1776) made an official state visit to the U.S. in July 1976. Traveling aboard a yacht, the Queen visited Washington, D.C., New York, and Philadelphia…where she presented a replica of the cracked Liberty Bell to the nation called the Bicentennial Bell.
- England also loaned out one of the four extant copies of the Magna Carta to be displayed in the U.S. Capitol Building. One of the main inspirations for the U.S. Constitution, the document sat in a glass box adorned with gold, rubies, pearls, and diamonds.
- Outside of the United States, the University of North Texas band performed live in Moscow. Arranged by the State Department, it was broadcast on national American television via satellite, one of the first major broadcasts to utilize the technology.
- The luckiest man of the Bicentennial: Eric Leek of North Arlington, New Jersey. The 26-year-old cab driver won New Jersey’s Bicentennial Lottery. From 1976 to 1996, he received a prize of $1,776 every week (before taxes).
- The Bicentennial was not without controversy. Invoking the Boston Tea Party of 1773, in which colonists dumped tea into Boston Harbor to protest the high taxes on tea (among other taxes), a group dumped empty packages bearing the names “Gulf Oil” and “Exxon” into Boston Harbor. They were protesting unchecked corporate power.
- CBS ran these “Bicentennial Minutes” all year long: