It’s hard to believe, but we already find ourselves at the mid-year mark! To celebrate, we at OrangeAxis wanted to share some of the more interesting but lesser-known tales about the 4th of July that will make you the highlight of holiday parties and gatherings this weekend.
We hope you enjoy these stories about John Adams and Lou Gehrig, the birth of cloud computing, a 4:00 a.m. fireworks show, and Thomas Jefferson rocking a laptop at the Continental Congress in ’76.
Wishing you a wonderful holiday, summer, and safe travels.
It is one of American history’s odd coincidences – three of the United States’ first five presidents died on the nation’s Independence Day, July 4. But perhaps the strangest bit of trivia is this: the nation’s 2nd and 3rd presidents – John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – died on the exact same day: July 4, 1826. Adams was 90, Jefferson was 82.
Adams and Jefferson became friends and colleagues during the Continental Congress, working closely together in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson would also later serve as Adams’ vice president.
However, the two men became bitter enemies due primarily to their disagreement over presidential power and what the future political course of the nation should be. After serving as his vice president, Jefferson ran against Adams for the presidency and defeated him in 1800, in what would become as much an American tradition as apple pie and the 4th of July – a nasty campaign filled with personal insults and seedy accusations.
Years later though, with both men out of public life and into their twilight years, they unexpectedly reconciled. Over the next 14 years, they engaged in a warm, pen-pal relationship that produced over 150 letters. Their letters touched on everything from current politics and philosophy to religion and family.
On July 4, 1826 – exactly 50 years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence – both men died. Adams’ last words, according to relatives, were purported to be, “Thomas Jefferson survives…”
Jefferson had actually died five hours earlier in Virginia. The news did not reach Adams’ hometown of Boston until after Adams’ death.
As an interesting aside, another founding father – James Monroe, the fifth president of the U.S. – died 5 years later to the day on July 4, 1831. One future U.S. president was born on July 4,Calvin Coolidge on July 4, 1872.
On July 4, 1996, one of the first free web-based email services, Hotmail, was launched. Hotmail was comparable to Gmail, which currently boasts over 425 million active users. Since users could access email from the web through any computer, Hotmail is regarded as one of the earliest examples of “cloud computing” that permeates both commercial and consumer technology today.
Neither the name of the service (“Hotmail”) nor the launch date (July 4) were coincidental. Hotmail founders Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith purposefully chose July 4 for the commercial launch as Hotmail was designed to ‘liberate’ users from being tethered to providers like Mindspring and Earthlink. During the Internet’s “frontier days,” most consumers purchased dial-up Internet access through an Internet Service Provider (ISP). This service also included email accounts. However, switching service from an MCI to Earthlink or from Mindspring to AOL meant losing your email address.
With Hotmail, your email was not dependent upon who provided your connection to the Internet. If you’ve ever had to change your primary email address, you can appreciate the flexibility offered by this new approach.
Hotmail’s name was also carefully chosen. The new email service was entirely web-based, and the web’s primary programming is HTML, thus “Hotmail.” To emphasize this, Hotmail was initially visualized as “HoTMaiL,” a clever twist that was probably lost on 99% of consumers.
Hotmail was eventually sold to Microsoft in December 1997, and since 2012, Microsoft has been actively encouraging Hotmail users to upgrade to Outlook.com.
By the way, Hotmail’s initial storage limit for a user’s entire folder of email messages was a whopping 2 megabytes – or, about half of the size of the message you are reading right now!
The Greatest Game Ever Played
Independence Day has a special bond with America’s pastime – baseball. Baseball is the country’s oldest major professional team sport, and its grueling 162-game schedule is almost perfectly divided into two halves with July 4 being the mid-season point. With no other team sports vying for the nation’s attention, and much of the country on holiday, baseball has the 4th of July all to itself.
Yankees’ great Lou Gehrig delivered baseball’s “Gettysburg Address” on July 4, 1939, declaring himself “the luckiest man on the face of this earth” despite being forced into retirement weeks earlier due to a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) that would take his life just a few years later. On that same day, New York retired his uniform number (#4, ironically), the first time in the history of professional sports where a team retired a uniform number to honor a player.
Three no-hitters have been tossed on America’s birthday. In 1983 – 44 years after Gehrig’s speech – Yankees hurler Dave Righetti threw a no-hitter at Yankee Stadium. Among those present was Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, born on July 4, 1930 and celebrating his 53rd birthday. Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan and Phil Niekro each notched their 3,000th strikeout when pitching on the 4th of July (Ryan in 1980, and Niekro in 1984).
Which brings us to July 4, 1985, when the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves battled for 19 innings in what many have called the best – or at least the wackiest – major league baseball game ever played.
Fans flocked to Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium for the Braves’ 4 p.m appointment with the Mets, due in no small part to the evening fireworks extravaganza scheduled for right after the game.
But the start of the game was delayed two hours because of rain, and the game was just heading into the 9th inning as midnight approached. In an otherwise unremarkable game, the visiting Mets tacked on a run in the 9th to tie the game and send it to extra innings.
Nine more innings and several hours later – in the bottom of the 18th inning – the Mets clung to a one-run lead. With two outs and nobody on base, the Braves sent out their last eligible batter, relief pitcher Rick Camp.
Baseball fans know that pitchers are generally poor hitters. But with a lifetime batting average of .060, Camp was horrible even among pitchers. A year earlier, The Scouting Report: 1984 observed that Camp was “absolutely, unquestionably one of the worst hitters you will ever see in a major league game.”
Of course, all Camp did was rock a home run into the left-field seats to tie the game – the only home run of his career – and indeed, one of only 13 hits during his nine-year career.
But the Mets rallied, and at just before 4:00 a.m., with two outs, the Braves were again down to their last hope…Rick Camp! Camp was unable to repeat his earlier heroics, striking out to end the game, and the Mets finally prevailed 16-13 in 19 innings.
Inexplicably, the Braves organization decided to honor their promise to the handful of fans remaining at the stadium – a 4th of July fireworks show (at 4 in the morning on July 5). As the fireworks exploded over downtown Atlanta, many local residents panicked, calling the police department and asking if Atlanta was being bombed by Libya.
Thomas Jefferson and The World’s First Laptop
On July 4, 1776, Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence. Representing 13 colonies stretching over 1,000 miles of the eastern seaboard and America’s 2.5 million inhabitants (about half the size of modern day Los Angeles), it is regarded as one of the most widely known – and important – documents in the history of the English language.
The primary author of the document was Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson is known primarily as a statesman, patriot and political philosopher, but he was also a scientist, architect, and inventor. His inventions included everything from the swiveling office chair to that beloved American dish, macaroni and cheese.
He may have also designed the world’s first “laptop.”
Working “on the road” in Philadelphia and away from the familiar trappings of his home in Monticello, Jefferson began drafting the Declaration of Independence in June of 1776 using a “laptop” he had designed. Built by Philadelphia cabinetmaker Benjamin Randolph, and using Jefferson’s design, the portable desk measured 10 inches long by 14 inches wide, and was 3 inches deep. It included a folding writing surface and a lockable drawer with space for paper, pens, and a glass inkwell.
Today, the laptop is on display in the Smithsonian museum.
Of his invention, Jefferson remarked:
Politics as well as Religion has its superstitions. These, gaining strength with time, may, one day, give imaginary value to this relic, for its great association with the birth of the Great Charter of our Independence.
Two hundred years later, as the United States celebrated its bicentennial in 1976, Xerox developed what many recognize as the world’s first portable computer, the Xerox NoteTaker(see image below). Imagine trying to pack this behemoth in your carry-on luggage!
Finally, if you look closely at today’s laptop computers, you will likely notice a remarkable similarity to the dimensions of Jefferson’s “laptop,” a fact even more compelling given that the modern typewriter and its iconic, “QWERTY” keyboard layout were not invented until 50 years after Jefferson’s death.