How Benjamin Franklin’s Kevlar Saved America

John Adams, signer of the Declaration of Independence, Second U.S. President, and all around unpleasant guy, had this to say about America’s Independence Day:

“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.”

 In other words, he thought it would be a pretty big deal, and he was right. Those Founding Fathers, they were smart cookies. Adams, Tom Jefferson, the guy who kept putting his John Hancock on things, and of course Bill, the Earl of Rights … They were generally good, smart men, who only wanted to, you know, overturn the government.

Of course John Adams also said this:

“The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epoch in the History of America.”


The Second?

Nobody’s perfect.

“Hey, bud–let’s party!”


Actually, Adams had a point: The Continental Congress did indeed approve a motion to change the United Colonies into the United States on July 2. It was the first big bureaucratic boondoggle, requiring the government to print up new letterheads, buy rubber stamps, and change the seal on the Presidential Podium. Not to mention they had to fund an army.

But, in yet another classic case of putting the cart full of red tape before the red, white and blue horse, the Congress then spent two days editing the Declaration of Independence before they finally approved it–on July 4th. So that date got printed at the top, and eventually led to our National holiday.

The Founders didn’t care. They hated John Adams so much that they didn’t take any of his suggestions for bells, bonfires and such, anyway. Adams’ last words, as he died on July 4th, 1826, were: “Thomas Jefferson still survives. Why isn’t he setting off fireworks?”

Adams didn’t know that Jefferson had died five hours earlier. Jefferson’s last recorded words were: “Is it the Fourth?” When offered painkiller, he added, “No, doctor, nothing more. Make no noise that would make that ass Adams think we’re celebrating.”

As a result, the first recorded noise complaint to police didn’t take place until the night of August 24th, 1814, in the city of Washington. I just happen to have transcripts of the call to police:

“This noise has been going on for hours. I have kids, and I have to get up early to go to work!”

“Sir, you don’t understand: The British are burning Washington!”

“Well … can’t they do it more quietly?”

Ironically, the first recorded celebration of Independence Day was on September 13 of that same year, 1814, during The War of 1812.



(I suppose it’s for the best that we didn’t call it The War of 1812-1815, which doesn’t roll off the tongue so well.)

The British were not huge John Adams fans. Still, they had it on good authority that Adams was busy in Massachusetts, debating with its legislature the best way to spell Massachusetts. (A name definitely decided by committee.) So they brought all their cannon, mortars, and rockets, in an attempt to crash the party being thrown at Fort McHenry.

But the Americans manning the fort had a secret weapon: a giant American flag, made of Kevlar.

Most people think Kevlar was introduced in 1971, but in reality Benjamin Franklin invented it accidentally in 1784, while trying to invent a stronger condom. Apparently he was still fuming about his son William being named Governor of New Jersey–royal Governor of the colony of New Jersey, on behalf of the King. Not long before he died, Franklin was heard to say, “I’ll never have another child! … well, hello, ladies!”

It’s not recorded where he said this.


Your flag may vary.


The Kevlar was adapted into a flag, allegedly by one of Franklin’s great-grand-daughters, and repelled everything the British could throw at it. This led an onlooker to write a poem that was later turned into a song:

Oh, say, can you see,

blocking Franklin’s pee-pee?

No latex surrounding–

 but this stuff can take a pounding.

The lyrics were later changed by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

So it took a lot of time and history type stuff, but in the end Adams was right about the holiday, if not the date. From one end of the continent to the other, we make noise, flash lights, burn stuff, and generally annoy each other. I’m not sure if everyone doing that stuff actually gets why

But we’re still here.

I can see my house from here!
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2 thoughts on “How Benjamin Franklin’s Kevlar Saved America”

  1. Anyone who uses “bureaucratic boondoggle” in a sentence is a legend.

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