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American Bicentennial

The United States Bicentennial was a series of celebrations and observances during the mid-1970s that paid tribute to the historical events leading up to the creation of the United States of America as an independent republic. The Bicentennial culminated on Sunday, July 4, 1976, with the 200th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.


The plans for the Bicentennial began when the U.S. Congress created the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission on July 4, 1966.[1] Initially, the Bicentennial celebration was planned as a single city exposition that would be staged in either Philadelphia, Pennsylvania or Boston, Massachusetts.[2] After 6½ years of tumultuous debate, the Commission recommended that there should not be a single event, and Congress dissolved it on December 11, 1973, and created the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration (ARBA), which was charged with encouraging and coordinating locally sponsored events.[3]

Ceremonial currency

In October 1973, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced that it would issue coins with special designs as part of the Bicentennial celebrations. An open contest to select suitable designs for the quarter, half dollar, and silver dollar was held and more than 1,000 designs were submitted. Three coins had Bicentennial-inspired designs added to their reverse sides for 1976 issuance: the quarter featuring a colonial drummer and a torch encircled by thirteen stars, designed by Jack L. Ahr; the half dollar with Independence Hall, designed by Seth G. Huntington; and the silver dollar with the Liberty Bell superimposed over the Moon, designed by Dennis R. Williams. These coins bore the date "1776-1976." The two-dollar bill, which had been discontinued in 1966, was reintroduced with a new reverse featuring a depiction of John Trumbull's signing the Declaration of Independence.

ARBA selected a logo via contest in 1974.[4] The winning design was by Bruce N. Blackburn, who was also co-designer of the modernized NASA insignia used from 1975 to 1992.[5] The logo consisted of a white five-point star inside a stylized star of red, white and blue. It was encircled by the inscription American Revolution Bicentennial 1776-1976 in black block letters. The logo was made into a flag that was flown at many government facilities throughout the United States. It appeared on many other souvenirs and postage stamps issued by the Postal Service. NASA painted the logo on the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in 1976 but painted the NASA emblem over it in 1998 for the agency's 40th anniversary.[6]

1975 events

The official Bicentennial events began on April 1, 1975, when the American Freedom Train launched in Wilmington, Delaware, to start its 21-month, 25,388-mile tour of the 48 contiguous states. On April 18, 1975, President Gerald Ford came to Boston to light a third lantern at the historic Old North Church, symbolizing America's third century.[7] The next day he delivered a major speech commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts, which began the military aspect of the American Revolution against British colonial rule.


Festivities included elaborate fireworks displays in the skies above major American cities. Those in Washington, D.C. were presided over by President Ford and televised nationally. A large international fleet of tall-masted sailing ships gathered first in New York City on the Fourth of July and then in Boston about one week later. These nautical parades, witnessed by several million observers, were named Operation Sail (Op Sail), and this was the second of five such Op Sail events to date (1964, 1976, 1986, 1992 and 2000). The vessels docked and allowed the general public to board the ships in both cities, while their sailors were entertained on shore at various ethnic celebrations and parties.

Several people threw packages labeled "Gulf Oil" and "Exxon" into Boston Harbor in symbolic opposition to corporate power.[8]

Queen Elizabeth II of United Kingdom and her husband, Prince Philip, made a special state visit to the United States to tour the country and attend Bicentennial festivities with President and Mrs. Ford. Their visit aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia included stops in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Virginia, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

While in Philadelphia on July 6, 1976, Queen Elizabeth II presented the Bicentennial Bell on behalf of the British people. The bell is a replica of the Liberty Bell, cast at the same foundry - Whitechapel Bell Foundry, and bearing the inscription "For the People of the United States of America from the People of Britain 4 July 1976 LET FREEDOM RING."[9]

Local observances included painting mailboxes and fire hydrants red, white, and blue. A wave of patriotism and nostalgia swept the nation and there was a general feeling that the irate era of the Vietnam War and the Watergate constitutional crisis of 1974 had finally come to an end.

In Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian Institution opened a long-term exhibition in its Arts and Industries Building that replicated the look and feel of the 1876 Centennial Exposition of the United States. Many of its museum belongings actually dated from the 1876 World's Fair exposition in Philadelphia that commemorated the 100th anniversary of the independence of the USA. The Smithsonian also opened the permanent exhibition hall for the National Air and Space Museum on July 1, 1976.

NASA commemorated the Bicentennial by staging a science and technology exhibit housed in a series of geodesic domes in the parking lot of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) called Third Century America. An American flag and the Bicentennial emblem were also painted on the side of the VAB; the emblem remained until 1998, when it was painted over with the NASA insignia. NASA originally planned for Viking 1 to land on Mars on July 4, but the landing was delayed to July 20, the anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. On the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, NASA held the rollout ceremony of the first space shuttle (which NASA had planned to name Constitution).

Many commercial products were marketed in packages tying them to the Bicentennial, usually distinguished by red, white, and blue coloring. The official Bicentennial star emblem was trademarked and only allowed to be used on products by paid license.

Many national railroads and shortlines painted locomotives or rolling stock in patriotic color schemes, typically numbered 1776 or 1976, and many military units marked aircraft with special designs in honor of the Bicentennial.

Disneyland temporarily replaced the Main Street Electrical Parade with America on Parade and featured the Sherman Brothers' song "The Glorious Fourth". The parade featured nightly fireworks and ran twice a day from 1975-1977.

John Warner, later elected to the United States Senate from Virginia, was director of the Federal office coordinating observances of the Bicentennial.

The State of New Jersey ran a special "Bicentennial Lottery". The winner was awarded $1,776 a week (before taxes) for 20 years (a total of $1,847,040).

The overall theme of the entertainment of Super Bowl X, held on January 18, was to celebrate the Bicentennial. Players on both teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys, wore a special patch with the Bicentennial Logo on their jerseys. The halftime show, featuring the performance group Up with People, was titled "200 Years and Just a Baby: A Tribute to America's Bicentennial".

The USOC initiated two American bids to host both the 1976 Summer and Winter Olympic Games to celebrate the Bicentennial. Los Angeles bid for the 1976 Olympics but lost to Montreal, Canada. Denver was awarded the 1976 Olympic Winter Games in 1970, but due to rising costs, the state of Colorado voted to back out of its organizational commitments and the IOC rewarded the 1976 Winter Olympics to Innsbruck, Austria, host of 1964. As a result, there was no Olympics in the United States in 1976 (however, Lake Placid would host the 1980 Winter Olympics, and Los Angeles would eventually be awarded the 1984 Olympics).

As site of the Continental Congress and signing of the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia was selected to host the 1976 NBA All-Star Game, the 1976 National Hockey League All-Star Game, the 1976 NCAA Final Four, and the 1976 Major League Baseball All-Star Game at which President Ford threw out the first pitch.[10] The 1976 Pro Bowl was an exception and was played in New Orleans, likely due to weather concerns.

George Washington was posthumously appointed to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States by the congressional joint resolution Public Law 94-479 passed on January 19, 1976, with an effective appointment date of July 4, 1976.[11] This restored Washington's position as the highest-ranking military officer in U.S. history.[Note 1]

The Bicentennial on television

Related network television programs aired July 3–4, 1976

The Bicentennial Minutes were short vignettes aired on CBS from 1974 through the end of 1976 to mark the occasion.

Saturday morning Bicentennial programs

In the months approaching the Bicentennial, Schoolhouse Rock, a series of educational cartoon shorts running on ABC between programs on Saturday mornings, created a sub-series called "History Rock," although the official name was "America Rock." The ten segments covered various aspects of American history and government. Several of the segments, most notably "I'm Just a Bill" (discussing the legislative process) and "The Preamble" (which features a variant of the preamble of the Constitution put to music), have become some of Schoolhouse Rock's most popular segments.

And in 1975, CBS did its bit on Saturday morning with a new animated Archie series, The U.S. of Archie; unfortunately, that version was unsuccessful, and was off the air by September 1976.


A number of nations gave gifts to the US as a token of friendship. Among them were:

Canada through the National Film Board of Canada produced the book Between Friends/Entre Amis which was a photographic essay of life along the US-Canada border. The book was given to libraries across the US and special editions were presented to President Gerald Ford and other officials.[12]

The government of France and Musée du Louvre assembled an exhibit of paintings in cooperation with the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Metropolitan Museum of Art that traveled to Detroit and New York City after being shown in Paris. The exhibit, entitled French Painting 1774-1830: The Age of Revolution, included the work of 94 French artists from that period. Many of the 149 works in the exhibit had never been seen outside France and included Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix, Jupiter and Thetis by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and a portrait of Maximilien Robespierre by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard.[13]

Japan's government constructed and furnished the 513-seat Terrace Theatre of Kennedy Center in Washington.[14]

The Parliament of the United Kingdom loaned one of the four existing copies of the Magna Carta for display in the US Capitol. The document was displayed in a case designed by artist Louis Osman consisting of gold, stainless steel, rubies, pearls, saphires, diamonds and white enamel. This was on a base of pegmatite and Yorkshire sandstone. The document was displayed atop a gold replica from June 3, 1976 until June 13, 1977 when it was returned. The case and gold replica remain on display in the Capitol.[15]


See also



External links

  • The Story of America's Freedom Trains
  • - Information on both Freedom Trains, documentaries, decals
  • Motts Military Museum near Columbus, OH -- Exhibits include a large display featuring artifacts and memorabilia from the 1975-76 American Freedom Train
  • The American Freedom Train Yahoo! Group -- Photos and discussion of both Freedom Trains
  • The short film ]
  • A film clip ]
  • A film clip ]
  • The short film ]
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