Break Out The Sparklers: The Most Expensive Independence Days In History


For most people, July 4th is a day for fun and family, hot dogs and hamburgers, beer and BBQ. But for others, it’s a great excuse to spend some serious moola. And that might be the way the founders wanted it.

According to common lore, declaration signer John Adams wrote a letter to his wife declaring that the Fourth should be celebrated with the proper amount of pomp and circumstance. Why? Because what better way to celebrate the freedom of our capitalist country than by writing a check or spending money on something absurd (like 68 hot dogs per person).

Read on for a look at some of history’s most hilarious and extravagant Fourth of July expenditures .

1916. The First Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.

The vaunted wiener-eating contest supposedly started as an argument between four immigrants over who was the most patriotic. This, according to them, was something that should be decided by stuffing enormous amounts of dogs down your gullet.

Back in 1916, hot dogs cost just a nickel ($1.01 adjusted for today’s prices). Current record holder is 2009 winner Joey Chestnut, who consumed 68 hotdogs at Nathan’s current prices of $3.15, at a total cost of $214.20. The cost was covered by the hot dog house.

2009. Barack and Michelle Obama’s First White House Fourth.

The first couple invited nearly 1,200 military families to their backyard BBQ for games of volleyball and mini-basketball, with a traditional menu of hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, corn on the cob, ice cream, soda and beer. Party planners estimate that since the grand setting was the Obama’s own home, the menu and drink costs probably cost about $50 per person. With an average of 3 attendees per family, that shakes out to about $180,000.

2004. P. Diddy’s Fourth Of July White Party.

Very few folks have wished America a happy birthday quite like rap mogul Sean “Puffy” Combs. While Diddy typically throws his annual White party (a celeb-studded affair where everyone has to wear all white and is inevitably messy by the end of the night) on the Fourth of July, in 2004 he really outdid himself with a grand bash at the PlayStation 2 mansion, a private nine-acre retreat in the Hamptons.

Diddy even borrowed an original Declaration of Independence from veteran producer Norman Lear, who had bought it four years earlier for $8 million. Three armed security guards escorted the rare manuscript for the evening (estimated to cost around $5,000 a pop).

The rapper and his entourage arrived in two customized helicopters (at an estimated cost of $10,000) to greet his more than $1,000 guests, including Lennox Lewis, Tyson Beckford, NBA player Elton Brand, Mary J. Blige, Paris Hilton, Lisa Ling and Betsey Johnson, who enjoyed the several open bars overflowing with Cristal.

Party planners estimate the cost of the party per person to be around $400, placing the cost of the entire event at roughly $500,000.

2008. Ron Perelman’s Annual Hamptons Bash.

Who loves America like Revlon chairman Ron Perelman? Judging by dollars spent to fete her birthday, no one does. The billionaire’s annual bash is always stuffed to the gills with his celebrity friends (Howard Stern, Elle Macpherson, Renee Zellweger), one of whom he typically contracts to perform. In 2008 it happened to be a couple of artists named Jon Bon Jovi and John Mellencamp. With the lavish food, wine and a little something-something slipped to the entertainment, party planners estimate the annual cost to be nearly $800,000.

1817. Ground is Broken On The Erie Canal.

In what may be the most expensive Fourth of July project ever started, ground was broken on the historic waterway on the Fourth of 1817. The shipping channel ultimately cost $7 million, or $117 million in today’s dollars.

1938. Congress Makes Independence Day a Paid Federal Holiday.

Well thank you, federal government, for giving us a day of fun in the sun, beach BBQs and fireworks—and thank you also for footing the bill. It costs the government an estimated $100 million in lost productivity to relieve the nation’s employees for a single work day.

1776. The Month Long Freedom Party (Priceless).

On a hot summer day in Philadelphia, our country celebrated its first day of Independence, but that first celebration stretched well into Indian summer. The Pennsylvania Evening Post was the first newspaper to print the Declaration of Independence on July 6th. But the first two public readings of the historic document weren’t given in Phildelphia until July 8th, and most delegates actually signed the declaration on August 2nd. At the end of the day, you just can’t put a price on freedom.


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