7 American Legends That Never Happened

Posted June 28, 2012

With July Fourth just around the corner, you’re probably buying out the fireworks stand, hanging the American flag, and preparing plenty of snacks to celebrate your national pride regardless of where you live – Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas. There’s plenty to be proud of and thankful for in our country’s history, but not everything you learned in school or from your parents is totally true. Some legends dealing with our country’s independence, as well as other notable moments in our history, are nothing more than stories. You might be surprised to discover that the following seven historical events didn’t happen the way you think. But go ahead and keep passing the stories on; it’s the American way.

  1. July Fourth is the day we declared independence:

    July 2, 1776 is actually the day that the Continental Congress voted for independence from Britain. And though the Declaration of Independence is dated July 4, the signing ceremony wasn’t until August 2, making July 4 a sadly insignificant date. John Adams believed July 2 would be the date that would be remembered and celebrated throughout American history, even writing this to his wife: "The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more."

  2. George Washington chopped down a cherry tree:

    Our first president’s honesty was legendary and probably one of the first lessons you ever learned about American history. The story goes that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree when he was young to test out his new hatchet. When his father saw the fallen tree, he asked Washington if he knew who had done it. Of course, young Washington confessed, saying "I cannot tell a lie." Most historians agree, though, that this anecdote is likely completely fabricated by Washington’s biographer, Mason Locke Weems, who published the first account of the story to demonstrate the president’s honesty (and to sell his book to the American public who wanted a hero). As long as we’re crushing your George Washington perceptions, we should let you know that his teeth, though false, were not actually made of wood.

  3. Christopher Columbus discovered America:

    The idea that Christopher Columbus was the first European to find the Americas and the notion that he set out to prove the world wasn’t flat are myths that continue to be passed around as truth. We celebrate Columbus Day every year without giving a second thought to the real story behind the discovery of the U.S. First of all, the earth’s shape had already been proven by Greek mathematicians by the second century B.C. at the latest. Columbus’ real mission was probably to prove that the earth was smaller than most people believed, which, of course, it wasn’t. He ended up running into the Bahamas archipelago and the island that is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Leif Ericson, a Norse explorer, actually landed in modern-day Canada almost 500 years before Columbus’ voyage, and John Cabot "discovered" Newfoundland for England, an exploration that led directly to England’s colonization of North America, just five years after Columbus hit land.

  4. Millard Fillmore installed indoor plumbing in the White House:

    Poor Millard Fillmore is normally forgotten as a president except for the fact that he introduced indoor plumbing to the White House in the form of a plumbed bathtub. Sadly for Fillmore’s legacy, this legend isn’t true at all. A journalist named H.L. Mencken published a history of bathtubs in the New York Evening Mail in 1917, crediting Fillmore with installing the bathtub in the White House and causing it to gain popularity throughout households in the U.S. It was a hoax, and Mencken revealed the truth in an article eight years after the fact, but the public seems to like the fiction more than the facts in this case.

  5. Feminists burned their bras in protest:

    When you think of the feminist movement at its peak in the ’70s, you probably imagine a group of women removing their bras and tossing them into a fire. As disappointing as it may be, this actually never happened. The moment that the media pointed to as the start of bra burning was the 1968 Miss America pageant in Atlantic City. Many feminists thought the event would be perfect to draw attention to their cause because it was a widely watched event by families and little girls especially. They did throw bras into a trash can, but they also chunked girdles, make-up, high heels, and Playboy magazines. No fire was set, and no bras were removed on-scene.

  6. Paul Revere warned "The British are coming!":

    Paul Revere’s famous ride did happen, but not the way most of us think. Our vision of it comes from the poem, "Paul Revere’s Ride," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which was highly exaggerated and published almost 90 years after the fact. In the poem, Revere is the lone hero who rides through Middlesex County, Mass., to warn the people that the British are coming by sea. In reality, he didn’t ride alone and never spoke the legendary phrase. The mission was to warn John Hancock and Sam Adams that the British were coming, as they were thought to be coming for these notable rebels. William Dawes and Samuel Prescott also rode with Revere and dozens of others joined in as the ride progressed. The three main riders were split up, and Revere was actually detained in Lexington and unable to spread the word to Concord himself. "The British are coming!" is also very unlikely to have been shouted because the rebels wanted to be discreet with their warning and they would’ve referred to the "British" as "regulars," since the rebels still considered themselves to be British at the time.

  7. Abner Doubleday invented baseball:

    Civil War general Abner Doubleday has long been touted as the inventor of baseball, our nation’s pastime. Legend has it that he thought up the game in 1839 in Elihu Phinney’s pasture in Cooperstown, N.Y., where the National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame now reside. This fact was published by the Mills Commission in 1905, which had been organized to determine the origins of baseball and had taken submissions from all over the country. But of the 67 diaries left by Doubleday and the multiple articles Doubleday wrote before his death, none mentioned baseball. Even Abraham Mills, the president of the National League and chair of the commission, had known Doubleday personally and hadn’t heard of his role in baseball’s origins. Most historians now consider it a myth that Doubleday invented baseball, believing it to be cooked up by certain citizens of Cooperstown.

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