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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Things You Should Know If You’re American

Period interpreters lead the citizen’s parade during an Independence Day celebration at Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site near Petersburg, Ill. (AP)

Part civics lesson, part trivia contest — “Stuff Every American Should Know” informs readers about everything from the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights to the 10 foods that are truly American and the books all American should read.

There’s also a refresher on past presidential assassinations (completed and foiled) and is it really illegal to rip a dollar bill in half? Yes, we learn. Also, who invented the blue jean? Not Levi Strauss. The idea started with merchants in India who sold a blue “hard-wearing fabric” that came from Dongari Fort, and was referred to as “dungaree,” according to the book.

“Stuff Every American Should Know” was written by the husband-wife team of Denise Kiernan and Joseph D’Agnese, who say the project grew out of an interest in American history — and a desire to explain it clearly.

“We were always fascinated by the misconceptions that some people have about American history,” Kiernan told Here & Now‘s Robin Young.

Ten Foods Invented in America


  • “Velvet” cake
  • Corn Dogs
  • Cheesesteak
  • Chop suey and chow mein
  • Waldorf, Cobb and Caesar Salad
  • Anadama bread
  • Oysters Bienville, Kirkpatrick and Rockefeller
  • Buffalo Chicken wings
  • Spiedies
  • Toll house cookies

Ten patriotic songs about the USA

  • “Yankee Doodle,” folk song
  • “Stars and Stripes Forever” John Philip Sousa
  • “You’re A Grand Old Flag” George M. Cohan
  • “This Land Is Your Land,” Woody Guthrie
  • “Battle Hymn of the Republic” Julie Ward Howe
  • “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Francis Scott Key
  • “My Country ‘Tis Of Thee,” Samuel F. Smith
  • “America the Beautiful,” Katharine Lee Bates
  • “Coming To America,” Neil Diamond
  • “God Bless America,” Irving Berlin

Why do Americans have fireworks on the fourth of July?

Though fireworks are not uniquely American, they were invented by the Chinese more than 1,300 years ago, they became associated with major American events as early as the 1700s, according to “Stuff Every American Should Know.”

And John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail that Americans should mark the nation’s birthday in a big way. “It ought to be solemnized with pomp, shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forever,” he wrote.

Lists and trivia based on “Stuff Every American Should Know,” by Denise Kiernan and Joseph D’Agnese. Copyright (c) 2012 by Denise Kiernan and Joseph D’Agnese.


  • Denise Kiernan, author
  • Joseph D’Agnese, author

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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