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2026 marks the 250th anniversary of the United States of America. Yet the founding ideals of our nation extend far beyond our borders, and certainly our culture and economy is interconnected with citizens across the globe.
In fact, America’s national anniversary celebrations have historically been major international events that featured participation by both American states and nations across the globe.
In 1876 and 1926, Philadelphia hosted the World’s Fair to celebrate the nation’s anniversary. These mega-events attracted direct participation by American states and foreign nations through the erection of pavilions, the contribution of art and horticulture, and diplomatic exchange. The Ohio House at the intersection of Belmont Drive and Montgomery Avenue is a lasting legacy of the States Drive from the 1876 Centennial. The torch of the Statue of Liberty, part of the French gift to America, was on display to raise funds for its erection in New York City. That year, each state organized a State Day. 37 nations participated at the Centennial, 11 of whom erected pavilion buildings.
Similarly, the American Swedish Historical Museum, Philadelphia’s original Japanese cherry blossom trees, and the Italian Fountain of Seahorses behind the Art Museum are legacies of the 1926 Sesquicentennial. The former Municipal (JFK) Stadium, the site now forming the basis of today’s Sports Complex, was host to major national pageants with thousands of performers in 1926.
During the 1976 Bicentennial, 12 heads of state visited Philadelphia to honor America’s bilateral friendships and relations, with Queen Elizabeth II gifting a Bicentennial Bell from the original foundry of the Liberty Bell. These dignitaries also visited a range of American cities as part of the exchange.
National anniversary Legacy Gifts have traditionally been championed by civic and patriotic associations and individuals. In 1876, B’nai Brith International and the Catholic Total Abstinence Union commissioned and donated a statue and fountain, respectively, that today remain features of Philadelphia’s artistic landscape. In 1976, Daughters of the American Revolution raised millions of dollars to support the renovation of the 2nd floor of Independence Hall. The LOVE statue was gifted for exhibition by Robert Indiana in 1976, later to be purchased Fitz Eugene Dixon Jr. for permanent display in 1978.
To see a contemporary international event firsthand, USA250 organized a study mission to this year’s World’s Fair, Expo Milano 2015 in Italy, which attracted 23 million participants over 6 months to a city and region of comparable size to Greater Philadelphia. The Expo’s grand concourse, fully canopied, was approximately as long as the Ben Franklin Parkway and featured international pavilions across its full length. At the central intersection, a perpendicular “Italian” boulevard featured cuisine and culture from all of the provinces of Italy, anchored on one end by the Italian national pavilion and on the other end by the Eataly restaurant.
How wonderful would it be to have a central “American Boulevard,” or perhaps titled The American Block Party!, in 2026 to showcase cuisine and culture from all 50 states? Or an international food truck festival, with national food trucks commissioned from across the globe, to then travel from city to city in 2026?
Do you have your own ideas? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.