birthplace of fireworks is generally recognized as China. It is said
that a Chinese cook accidently mixed three common kitchen ingredients
(black powder): Potassium nitrate or salt petre, sulphur and charcoal
and lighted it. The result was colourful flames. The cook also noticed
that if the mixture was burned when enclosed in the hollow of a bamboo
shoot, there was a tremendous explosion. The first application of this
technology was for entertainment. Slowly the theory took roots that this
loud sound was perfect to chase away evil spirits and to celebrate
weddings, victories in battles, eclipses of moon and religious
the recipe for black powder was perfected, they found that it was easily
used as rocket fuel, and they made hand carved wooden rockets in the
shape of a dgoran, in the sixth century. These rockets shot rocket
powered arrows from their mouth, and were used against the Mongol
invaders of 1279. The principle behind these rockets is still used in
rocket powered fireworks today.
China the fireworks moved on to the West, through adventurous explorers.
Legend has it that Marco Polo brought this new accidental invention to
the West from one of his many trips to China and other eastern
countries. Thus the knowledge of making fireworks spread west, through
Arabia in the seventh century. The Arabs called the rockets Chinese
earliest recorded use of gunpowder in England, and probably the western
world, is by the Franciscan monk Roger Bacon. He was born in Ilminster
in Somerset in 1214 and lived, as a master of languages, maths, optics
and alchemy to 1294. He recorded his experiments with a mixture which
was very inadequate by todays standards but was recognisable as
gunpowder. His formula was very low in saltpetre because there was no
natural source available, but it contained the other two essential
ingredients: charcoal and sulphur.
In 1242 he wrote: "...if you light it you will get thunder and
lightening if you know the trick", Fireworks as such probably
arrived in the 14th century, brought back from the East by Crusaders,
and they rapidly became a form of international entertainment. The first
recorded fireworks in England were at the wedding of Henry VII in 1486.
They became very popular during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
Shakespeare mentions them and they were so much enjoyed by the Queen
herself that she created a "Fire Master of England". James II
was so pleased with his coronation display that he knighted his
firemaster. King Charles V as well had a great liking for fireworks. He
had many 'fireworkers' in his staff. He celebrated all his victories
with fireworks. Gradually the royal courts took up fireworks as a
favourite form of celebrations and festivities. Fire Masters soon became
a much sought after commodity. Many of them were killed or grievously
injured as they entertained others with their dangerous profession.
by the 14th-15th century almost every country had its own version of
fireworks. While the Germans used them in battles, the British lighted
fireworks in celebrations and the Italians, who were the first to
manufacture fireworks in Europe, used them to mark great occasions.
Though the credit for invention of fireworks goes to China, Europe
surpassed China in pyro-technic development. During the Renaissance, two
European schools of pyrotechnic thought emerged: one in Italy and the
other at Nuremberg, Germany. The Italian school of pyrotechnics
emphasized elaborate fireworks, and the German school stressed
scientific advancement. Both schools added significantly to further
development of pyrotechnics, and by the mid-17th century fireworks were
used for entertainment on an unprecedented scale in Europe, being
popular even at resorts and public gardens. Regular fireworks pageants
were held where elaborate displays of fireworks were held.
earliest settlers brought their love of fireworks to the New World,
where firings of black powder were used to celebrate holidays and
impress the natives. Pranksters in the colony of Rhode Island caused
enough problems that in 1731 a ban was established on the mischevious
use of fireworks.
the time of the American Revolution, fireworks had long played a part in
celebrating important events. It was natural that not only John Adams, but
also many of his countrymen, should think of fireworks when Independence
was declared. The very first celebration of Independence Day was in 1777,
six years before Americans knew whether the new nation would even survive
the war, and fireworks were a part of the revels.
spirit of celebration continued to grow and fireworks became more popular
than ever. In the late 18th Century, politicans used displays to attract
crowds to their speeches.
the 19th century, fireworks lacked a major aestheticly essential
characteristic: color. Pyrotechnicians began to use a combination of
potassium chlorate and various metallic salts to make brilliant colors.
The salts of these metals produce the different colors: strontium burns
red; copper makes blue; barium glows green; and sodium, yellow. Magnesium,
aluminum, and titanium were found to give off white sparkles or a flash.
1892, a 400 year celebration of Columbus landing on America's shores lit
up the Brooklyn Bridge. Over one million people witnesses the event which
was considered the greatest show ever seen in the Western Hempisphere.
of the most memorable events in America's history of fireworks displays
was the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Statue of Liberty,
unique because it brought together three of the most famous names in the
fireworks industry: George Zambelli of Zambelli Internationale, Inc.;
Felix Grucci, Jr. of Fireworks by Grucci, Inc.; and Robert Souza of Pyro
as fierce competitors, they had never before worked together. Yet for this
event, held July 4, 1986, the three worked together closely for nearly a
year planning and designing the largest and most magnificent display in
the world in honor of Independence Day and Miss Liberty's 100th
Anniversary. This show incorporated 22,000 aerial fireworks, launched from
30 barges and other vantage points. An additional 18,000 set pieces,
ground pictures, fountains and low displays were seen, stretching rom the
East River, around the tip of Manhattan, up into the Hudson River and
around the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The production required an
estimated 220 miles of wires, 777,000 pounds of mortar tubes, through
which sky rockets and aerial bombs were launched, and a staff of 100
pyrotechnicans on site.
can be seen throughout the year in communities large and small. Fireworks
displays add spectacular finishing touches to many grand events. However beautiful
and enchanting they may be fireworks are not devoid of dangers. Fireworks
have always been dangerous and have caused and continue to cause serious
and tragic accidents. Efforts to control the dangers and ill effects of
fireworks began as early as the late 19th century. In 1890 a 'Society for
Suppression of Unnecessary Noise' was formed.
campaigns were launched so that fatalities and injuries caused by
fireworks could be brought down. We too can ensure that we do not become a
statistic by falling prey to the perils of fireworks. It is certainly not
difficult. All mishaps due to fireworks occur as a result of carelessness,
negligence and ignorance. Simple precautions can help avoid these mishaps.
Just follow the simple tips in the next article on fireworks
safety for a fun filled SAFE celebration.