A Brief History of 4th of July Fireworks
We all just enjoyed another birthday for our great nation, most likely with some form of fireworks to compliment the celebration. As I was looking up at the exploding, multicolored exhibition, I thought to myself: “This is a pretty strange tradition. Where the heck did this start”
The man behind the idea for fireworks to celebrate the nations birth was none other than John Adams. In fact, he had planned that to be an essential part of the festivities even before the Declaration of Independence was signed.
He wrote his loving wife Abigail on July 3, 1776 saying that the special occasion must be commemorated “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.”
And thus a tradition was created with the first commemorative Independence Day fireworks set off on July 4, 1777. The sky was set alive with the rockets’ red glare, and the fireworks bursting in air. The event was forever memorialized in the Pennsylvania Evening Post which wrote that in Philadelphia, “The evening was closed with the ring of bells, and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks, beginning and ending with 13 rockets on the Commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated.” The paper went on to say that “Everything was conducted with the greatest order and decorum, and the face of joy and gladness was universal.”
Later that year in 1777, Boston saw fireworks fly over the commons, lighting up the Boston sky, thus establishing a tradition alive today. Only now we have a soundtrack added by the Boston pops.
Fireworks became readily available to the public in 1783. In 1784 one merchant offered a range of pyrotechnics that included “rockets, serpents, wheels, table rockets, cherry trees, fountains, and sun flowers.”
China is credited with inventing fireworks. The early versions were simply repurposed military munitions, fired for entertainment rather than to kill the enemy. In the 12th century, the Chinese improved the burning fire arrow by adding gunpowder to it. It wasn’t long before they invented rockets, leaving out the shrapnel and simply stuffing a hollow container with gunpowder while leaving a hole in one end for propulsion. These early fireworks were called “ground-rats” or “fire-rats,” and were dangerous and unpredictable. Although they were less effective, it did increase the entertainment value.
Whether you appreciate fireworks for the loud bangs, bright colors, and or the thrill of danger and sense of destruction is personal preference. On the business side, fireworks have grown into a billion dollar business that requires technical ingenuity and artistic choreography. Nevertheless, fireworks bring about a sense of thrill for all of us and the tradition grows stronger every day.
Happy 4th of July and God bless America!
Cheers -Keith Springer