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The History of Fireworks!

It’s hard to think of celebrating the 4th of July without seeing the dazzling display in the sky! But how long have fireworks been associated with America’s Independence? How long have fireworks been associated with celebrating anything? We did a little research to see how long people have been fascinated by the vibrant flashes that light up the night skies!

Many believe the celebratory explosions can trace their history all the way back to 200 B.C. in China. The natural firecrackers were made of roasted bamboo, which exploded with a bang when heated due to its hollow air pockets. At this point in history, firecrackers were used to ward off evil spirits. At some point between 600 and 900 A.D., Chinese alchemists mixed together saltpeter, charcoal, sulfur and other ingredients, unwittingly yielding an early form of gunpowder! They would pack these ingredients into the bamboo stalks and throw them up into the air to produce a loud blast…and the firework was born!

Soon enough, the bamboo stalks were replaced with paper tubes and the uses for the firecracker reached to warfare. As the magical invention made its way to the Middle East and Europe, they learned how to fire the explosives into the air and guide them towards enemy targets, so the firecracker was essentially the first rocket! But by the 13th century, less gunpowder was used in fireworks and they became increasingly popular first to commemorate military victories and later to enhance public celebrations and religious ceremonies. By the time of the Renaissance, pyrotechnic schools were training firework artists across Europe, particularly Italy, which became famous for its colorful displays. It was the Italians who first incorporated small amounts of metal, creating the bright, multi-hued sparks and sunbursts.

Oooo! Aaahh!
It was the Europeans who brought the knowledge and appreciation of fireworks to the New World. On July 3, 1776, the day before the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife in which he presaged the role of fireworks in Fourth of July celebrations. “The day will be most memorable in the history of America,” he predicted. “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade…bonfires and illuminations [a term for fireworks]…from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.” Fireworks were used again the next year to commemorate the country’s first anniversary.

Some of the most famous shows take place over the Hudson River in New York City, along Boston’s Charles River, at the National Mall in Washington and in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Where will you be watching the fireworks this year? Who has had your favorite pyrotechnic show?

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