When I was younger, some of my most favorite memories were of the summers I spent away at camp or traveling with my family through my home state of Texas. No matter where I ended up, one event was inevitable – Fourth of July celebrations. We would sit on a hillside or in the back of a pickup truck with our hot dogs and sodas while these bursts of beautiful light exploded above us. As I witnessed this somewhat magical occurrence year after year, I would wonder who came up with such wonder. Where did they come from? What are they made of? Why are they used as a symbol of celebration all over the world?
A Brief History of Fireworks
The first instances of fireworks occurred in China over 2,000 years ago. People would toss bamboo stalks onto fire and watch as they exploded as air expanded in the reeds. Years later, the Chinese began using a more pyrotechnical process to ignite more powerful fireworks – completely by accident. This included mixing charcoal, saltpeter and sulfur – all common things used in Chinese kitchens in that period. This process is very close to the process we still use today. They also discovered the more oxygen found in the saltpeter, the bigger the explosion. The Chinese were able to enjoy fireworks all to themselves until around 1295 when Marco Polo introduced Europe to this newfound explosive from the Orient by bringing them back from the numerous trips he made.
Over the next few centuries, more and more ways of making and using these pyrotechnics were discovered. In the 1700s, England began using fireworks exclusively for celebrations throughout the land. Different kinds of fireworks have been made as well, including those of different sizes, colors and explosive power. Several other uses for them were discovered, too. Cherry bombs, for instance, were used in battle during the Civil War. They are now illegal to use in the U.S., but can still be found throughout the world – not entirely for acts of war, either.
Why We Celebrate With Fireworks
Other than the fact that fireworks look and sound like some of the most awesome stuff on planet Earth (if you’re into bright lights and loud noises), there are a few historic reasons we use them as well. In the United Sates, we actually celebrate Independence Day with fireworks thanks to John Adams, our second President. In a letter to his wife, Abigail, exactly one day before signing the Declaration of Independence, Adams claimed the 4th of July shall be recognized “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.” Some also claim that bringing fireworks into the celebration were a huge morale booster and showed the progressiveness of America at the time. Thanks to having a pyromaniac for a Founding Father, we began using fireworks in other celebrations like ringing in the New Year, taking note from the Chinese again.
We can all agree that fireworks, while being somewhat loud and raucous, are key in bringing people together all over the world. The next time you countdown to midnight on New Year’s Eve or sit and admire the bright colorful lights explode on Independence Day, take a moment to remember the people who stumbled across one of the greatest inventions of all time and the political figures that helped make them what they are today.
Watch this video to see how they are made today: