The Fourth of July—in 9 Graphs

How the country's grown in 237 years, where your backyard-grilled meats really came from, and how your fireworks could kill you.

Two hundred and thirty-seven years ago today, America was born. Kind of. More like we announced an intention to be born.

In that year, there were just 2.5 million people living in what would, in a few years, become the United States of America, according to current Census estimates. Today, the metropolitan areas of both New York City and Los Angeles have larger populations. Essentially, America was the size of modern Chicago.

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Although the country has grown in both space and population, not everybody knows exactly what we're meant to be celebrating on the Fourth of July.  Asked in what year America claimed independence, less than a third of Millennials correctly guessed 1776, according to a 2011 Marist Poll survey.

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But enough celebrating ignorance and more celebrating America. In 2012, Americans spent nearly $1 billion on about 207 million pounds of display and consumer fireworks. That's about 60 percent more than we spent in 2000. Interestingly, the sheer number of pounds of fireworks we bought peaked in 2005.

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The U.S. imports about a quarter of a billion dollars worth of fireworks with the vast, vast majority coming from China (appropriately enough, since the first fireworks in recorded history were from 7th century China).

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The American Pyrotechnics Association (actual URL: http://www.americanpyro.com) claims that the rate of firework injuries has declined by about 80 percent since 1980. But there are still 4 recorded injuries for every 100,000 pounds of fireworks today. Here's how those injuries tend to break down (graph via Wonkblog).
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For a safer way to celebrate, there are always flags. The Flag Manufacturers Association of America claims its members sell more than $300 million in "fabricated flags, banners and similar emblems" each year. We still import nearly $4 million of American flags every year, six-times more than we export.
 

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Famously, we get the vast, vast majority of our flag imports from China.

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Fireworks and flags are fine, but you can't eat them (safely). Fortunately for our stomachs, the final hallmarks of the holiday are hot dogs and burgers. So where do our American-bred pigs, hogs, and cattle come from? The folks at the Census and the USDA have data on that $90 billion mega-meat business, too.

If the meat of choice on your grill is beef hot dogs, steaks or burgers, there's a decent chance your food came from Texas, Nebraska, and Kansas, which combined account for about a third of annual meat production from cattle and calves in the U.S. (The American Meat Institute has slightly different figures.)

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The hog and pig industry is more centralized. There are 66 million hogs and pigs in the U.S. today. About a third of them, producing 10 billion pounds of meat, are in Iowa.

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Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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