Heinz ketchup packets are shown in New York on Aug. 22, 2005.
Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg / Getty Images
July 4, 2016 12:00 PM EDT

America is many things. A land. A concept. A home. Ever since our nation’s founding in Philadelphia in 1776, people have sought to define the United States. But America is unique—hard to categorize or describe. One way to try is through some of the seminal entities, items and ideas that were born or nurtured on this soil. These are what a new special edition of TIME calls “American originals.”

For the past 240 years (or longer, really), Americans have been building, tinkering, inventing, singing, dancing, writing, playing, working, imagining and reimagining themselves and this country, all within the context of a notion: the American dream. This is a country of seekers and creators eager to see and influence what lies ahead. Yet attempting to gather all that is original about America would be like trying to canvass every step of the land that the explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and the members of their Corps of Discovery trekked across in the early 19th century: too vast, too overwhelming.

We restricted ourselves to 100 originals. It wasn’t easy. Discussions of what to include on the list invariably led to passionate debate: Which movie, The Wizard of Oz or Gone with the Wind? Which camera, Kodak or Polaroid? To make our decisions, we thought first about what is essential and what has changed society.

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In the end, we hope we have amassed a list that is not only original but also includes things that have had a profound influence on the country and, often, the world. We hope that within these pages you will learn some new things about your favorite American originals, as well as come across a few others that will join your personal best list.

Find more in TIME’s special edition 100 American Originals: The Things That Shaped Our Culture. Available at retailers and at Amazon.com.

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