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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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  • oski65

    My wife grew up in Fall River, MA and one of her favorite foods was chow mein sandwiches, served by the only Chinese restaurant in the city.  Growing up in Chicago and Los Angeles, I had never heard of, nor could I imagine, such a thing until I met her.

  • Gail

    Really enjoyed the piece on Things You Should Know if You’re American.  My husband became an American Citizen at the Fenway Park Ceremony a few years back and I enjoyed “studying” for the test as he was preparing.  So much I didn’t know.  Looking forward to getting the book.  Thanks for your always interesting and stimulating stories!

  • nancy marie robertson

    With respect to the quotation that Denise and Joseph shared with us, “Well behaved women seldom make history,” it was coined by LAUREL (not Louise) Ulrich.

    I have seen it attributed to Louise elsewhere on the web.  I can only hope they have it correctly identified in their book (or will correct it in the future).

  • Laura Gellott

    That interview has been bothering me since I heard it.  Thanks to Nancy Robertson for correcting the Laurel Thatcher Ulrich reference. 

    I was also bothered by Denise and Joseph’s flip dismissal or trivialization of the phrase “the rule of law.”  What a shame that they don’t recognize it, and attest to finding it confusing.  Political dissidents in Eastern Europe in the 1980s, participants in the Arab Spring uprisings, opponents of the Syrian regime, those seeking to build democracies in Africa: all of these people use the phrase and fight and even die to see the “rule of law” established in their countries. 

    That two people claiming to be writing a book, ostensibly aimed at new citizens of the US, should be so unaware of a fundamental concept like this, is a shame.  It serves only to diminish and discredit them.

  • jefe68

    I don’t see the Po-bo in the list. And I think the good people of Philadelphia would not be pleased, it’s a Philly cheese-steak. 

    If people do not know the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution shame on them. They should educate themselves and this can be done with ease.

  • Dogshit

    What a crappy list of random stuff. We’re all slaves to the corporation and britain/ the Vatican

  • http://czuhai.ws/ kirk czuhai

    the above is nonsense compared to knowing http://hereitis.ws !!!!!!! !!!!!!! !!!!!!!

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