I can’t believe I wrote about free ebooks for the 4th of July — and forgot to mention the Declaration of Independence!

It’s a surprisingly detailed snapshot of life in America in 1776 — but what’s really interesting is that it’s impossible to buy a free copy directly from Amazon’s Kindle store! There’s over 117 different ebooks about the Declaration of Independence for sale in the store — but they’ll all cost you at least 99 cents.

So how can you read a free copy of the Declaration of Independence? Just click on this link. Nearly 40 years ago, a student at the University of Illinois launched a mission to make the great works of literature available for free to the general public. Remembering the man who’d revolutionized the world of reading by inventing the first mechanical printing press, he named his collection “Project Gutenberg”. By 2009, they’d created over 30,000 free e-texts, according to Wikipedia. And it’s a cause that’s near and dear to the hearts of a lot of geeks online.

But here’s my favorite part of the story. He’d launched this lifelong campaign back in 1971, anticipating all the great literature that he’d be sharing with the entire world, and even making available for new generations to come. So on that first day, 39 years ago, which great work of literature did he choose as the very first one?

The Declaration of Independence.

The only small complaint that I have is that before you get to the text that Thomas Jefferson worked on, there’s an explanatory text about the history of the 1971 e-file — but if you’re a geek, that’s kind of itneresting too. “The title was stored in an emailed instruction set which required a tape or diskpack be hand mounted for retrieval. The diskpack was the size of a large cake in a cake carrier, cost $1500, and contained 5 megabytes, of which this file took 1-2%…

“The 10,000 files we hope to have online by the end of 2001 should take about 1-2% of a comparably priced drive in 2001.”

But of course, seven years later the world of book storage was revolutionized again. By the Kindle!