How old is the United States of America?

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The question “How old is America?” is both a simple and complex question to answer, depending on how you want to measure age.

We’re going to start with the simple and then move onto the complex.

How old is America? – The Simple Answer

The Second Continental Congress debating the Declaration of Independence

The simple answer is that as of right now, the United States is 243 years old. It’s 243-years-old because the Declaration of Independence was ratified by the US Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.

The passing of the Declaration of Independence meant that the thirteen original British colonies in North America ceased to be colonies and officially (at least according to them) became a sovereign nation.

But, as I said before, this is just the simple answer and the simple answer may or may not be correct depending on when you count the birth of a nation. Obviously, to earn this claim to independence, the colonists needed to fight a war, the American Revolution, which didn’t end until 1783. So perhaps for the British, America is seven years younger. Yet people in the United States today celebrate July 4th, 1776 as America’s birthday.

Here are 9 other potential birth dates and ages for the United States of America.

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Birthday 2. The Formation of a Continent

The North American Continent
Image Credit: USGS

If you believe the age of the United States should be counted from when the North American landmass first separated from the rest of the surrounding world, the US would be celebrating it’s 200 millionth birthday!

Good luck trying to find a Hallmark card for that one… 🙂

It separated from a landmass known as Laurentia (Lauren, to her friends) which also contained Eurasia, around 200 million years ago.

Birthday 3. The Arrival of the Native Americans

The arrival of Native Americans

If you believe the age of the United States should be counted from when the Native Americans first set foot on the North American continent, then the age of the United States is somewhere between 15,000- and 40,000-years-old.

It’s believed the first Native Americans arrived between 13,000 B.C.E and 38,000 B.C.E via a land bridge connecting North America to Serbia. Hallmark still isn’t coming to the party on this one, but I’d LOVE to see a birthday cake stacked with 13,000+ candles!

Birthday 4. The Arrival of Christopher Columbus

Arrival of Christopher Columbus

If you believe the age of the United States should be counted from when Christopher Columbus first sailed across the wide blue ocean and landed on the ‘uninhabited’ (if you don’t count the somewhere between 8 million and 112 million Native Americans) shores of North America, then the United States is 527 years old.

He set sail on the evening of August 3, 1492, in three ships: the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. It took roughly 10 weeks to find the Americas, and on October 12, 1492, he set foot in the Bahamas with a group of sailors from the Santa Maria.

However, given the ugly events of the next few years surrounding European colonization in the Americas, celebrating this date as America’s birthday has fallen largely out of favor. In fact, in many places in the United States, people have stopped celebrating the anniversary of Columbus’ arrival to the America’s because of a better understanding of the impact this had on indigenous populations.

Birthday 5. The First Settlement

Roanoke Island
The settlement of Roanoke Island

If you believe the age of the United States should be counted from when the first settlement was established, then the United States is 432 years old.

The first settlement was established on Roanoke Island in 1587, however, all was not well. The harsh conditions and lack of supplies meant that by the time some of the original settlers arrived back on the island with supplies in 1590, the settlement appeared to be completely abandoned with no sign of the original inhabitants.

Birthday 6. The First SUCCESSFUL Settlement

Artist Impression of the settlement of Jamestown

If you believe the age of the United States should be counted from when the first successful settlement was established, then the age of the United States is 410 years old.

The failure of Roanoke Island didn’t deter the British. In a joint venture with the Virginia Company, they established a second settlement at Jamestown in 1609. Once again, the harsh conditions, aggressive natives, and lack of supplies made life on the continental US very tough (they even resorted to cannibalism to survive at one point), but the settlement was ultimately successful.

Birthday 7. The Articles of Confederation

How old is the United States of America? 4
The Act of Maryland ratifying the Articles of Confederation
Image credit: Self-made [CC BY-SA 3.0]

If you believe the age of the United States should be counted from the Articles of Confederation were ratified, then the United States is 238-years-old.

The Articles of Confederation laid the framework for how the states were to operate in their ‘League of Friendship’ (their words, not mine) and were the guiding principles behind the decision-making process of Congress.

The articles were debated for more than a year (July 1776 – November 1777) before being sent to the states for ratification on November 15th. They were finally ratified and came into force on March 1st, 1781.

Birthday 8. The Ratification of the Constitution

Signing of the US constitution
The Signing of the US Constitution
Image Credit: Howard Chandler Christy

If you believe the age of the United States should be counted from when the constitution, then the age of the United States is 231-years-old.

The Constitution was finally ratified by the ninth state (New Hampshire – holding everyone back…) on 21 June 1788 and came into force 1789. In its 7 articles, it embodies the doctrine of the separation of powers, the concepts of federalism, and the process of ratification. It’s been amended 27 times to help a growing nation accommodate the changing needs of an ever-expanding population.

Birthday 9. The End of the Civil War

end of the civil war
The USS Fort Jackson – the location where surrender papers were signed by Kirby Smith on June 2nd, 1865, marking the end of the US Civil War

If you believe the age of the United States should be counted from the end of the Civil War, then the United States is only 154 years old!

During the Civil War, the Union ceased to exist as the southern states seceded. It wasn’t reformed till the end of the Civil War in June 1865.

I mean, if you get divorced and remarried, you don’t count your wedding anniversary from when you were first married, do you? So why would you do that with a country?

Birthday 10. The First MacDonalds

How old is the United States of America? 5
The original MacDonald store in San Bernadino, California

If we’re going to play fun hypotheticals, then lets at least have some fun with it.

One of the significant contributions the United States has made to world culture is the invention of fast food (you can argue about its merits, but you can’t deny its impact). Of all the fast-food chains, the most iconic is MacDonalds.

A new restaurant opens every 14.5 hours and the company feeds 68 million people PER DAY – which is larger than the population of Great Britain, France, and South Africa, and more than double the population of Australia.

Given the significant role this American icon has played in shaping the culinary habits of the world, an argument could be made (not a good argument, but an argument nonetheless) that you should count America’s age from the opening of the first MacDonalds store.

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If you believe the birth of the United States should be counted from when the Golden Arches first spanned this wide brown land and the first crunch of a MacDonalds french fry being hastily gobbled down by a satisfied customer was rang out across the carpark, then the United States is 64 years old.

The first MacDonalds opened it’s doors on April 15, 1955, in San Bernadino, California and has continued its march forward ever since.

In Summary

The age of the United States can be measured in many different ways, but the generally accepted consensus is that the United States of America is 243-years-old (an counting).

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