The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Digital Library

American Bicentennial Celebration

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The United States Bicentennial was a series of events in celebration of the nation’s 200th birthday. Official events began on April 1, 1975 with the launch of the American Freedom Train 21-month tour of the 48 contiguous states. Later that month, President Gerald Ford visited the Old North Church in Boston, Massachusetts, where he lit a third lantern in recognition of the country’s third century. He then delivered a major address at Lexington and Concord commemorating the 200th anniversary of the battles that spurred the Revolutionary War.

The American Revolution Bicentennial Administration focused on supporting local celebrations, with around 66,000 recognized events in total. There were picnics, ceremonies, presentations, and numerous other festivities across the country. Bicentennial celebrations were not limited to the United States: An exhibition titled The World of Franklin and Jefferson first opened in Paris, France before travelling throughout Europe and the US.

The Bicentennial was also commemorated by two official state visits. In May 1976, President and Mrs. d’Estaing of France visited the US in recognition of the history of friendship between the two countries. Two months later, in July 1976, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip of Great Britain toured Philadelphia, DC, Virginia, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. On behalf of the British people, the Queen gifted to the US the Bicentennial Bell, a replica of the Liberty Bell that hangs at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

President Ford boards the Michigan wagon at the Bicentennial Wagon Train Pilgrimage encampment, where covered wagon trains converged after crossing the nation on historical trails, Valley Forge State Park, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 7/4/1976.
President Ford boards the Michigan Wagon at the
Bicentennial Wagon Train Pilgrimage Encampment,
Where Covered Wagon Trains Converged After Crossing
the Nation on Historical Trails, Valley Forge State Park,
Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 7/4/1976
(White House photograph B510-35)

Official events culminated on July 4, 1976, the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. On this day, President Ford travelled to Pennsylvania to participate in events at Valley Forge and Philadelphia. He ended the day at New York Harbor where he celebrated Operation Sail, an international naval review of ships sent by the navies of numerous countries.

The Bicentennial is noted for the feelings of patriotism and nostalgia that the celebrations inspired. There was a general feeling that the country was beginning to recover after the unstable period of the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and the Watergate crisis. In his autobiography A Time to Heal, President Ford described the effect that Bicentennial Celebrations had on the country: “Rarely in the history of the world had so many people turned out so spontaneously to express the love they felt for their country. Not a single incident marred our festival. The nation’s wounds had healed. We had regained our pride and rediscovered our faith, and in doing so, we had laid the foundation for a future that had to be filled with hope.”

To see more photos from the Bicentennial, check out the photo gallery for the photo gallery for the Celebration of the Bicentennial of the American Revolution and the Bicentennial Artifacts. You can also explore the resource page for Entertaining Royalty: The State Dinner for Queen Elizabeth.

 

Digitized Holdings Related to the Bicentennial

Topics

Timeline

 

TOPICS

General

 

American Freedom Train

 

American Revolution Bicentennial Administration (ARBA)

 

Bicentennial Land Heritage Program

 

Bicentennial Task Force

 

Bicentennial Wagon Train

 

Foreign Reaction and Visits by Foreign Leaders

 

Gifts

 

Horizons on Display

 

Presidential Messages and Proclamations

 

Schedules for President and Mrs. Ford

 

Visitors

 

 

TIMELINE

1974

 

1975

 

1976