The American Pyrotechnics Association estimates that more than 16,000 fireworks displays light up U.S. skies each Fourth of July. The nation has been marking Independence Day ever since July 4, 1777, when Philadelphia celebrated the one-year anniversary of the final version of the Declaration of Independence. But the history of fireworks, of course, starts thousands of years ago.
Second century B.C.
Historians believe that the earliest forms of fireworks were created by the Chinese. Bamboo stalks, when thrown into a bonfire, would pop as the hollow air pockets overheated — and this was thought to ward off evil spirits.
600 A.D.-900 A.D.
A Chinese alchemist mixed potassium nitrate, sulfur, and charcoal to make gunpowder, and with gunpowder — voila! fireworks. These light shows were orchestrated to celebrate weddings, ceremonies, and festivals.
During the Mongolian wars, Chinese soldiers learned to defend themselves with cannons — and celebrated successful battles with fireworks.
Records reveal that fireworks had spread to areas in Arabic and Islamic lands, where they were referred to as “Chinese flowers.”
Marco Polo brought fireworks from Asia to Europe, among spices and other imports.
In India, fireworks were probably used around in the celebration of Diwali, the festival of lights.
King James II adored fireworks so much that his coronation in 1685 featured great light shows and he knighted his firemaster.
Peter the Great wanted to use fireworks to modernize Russia, and demanded that fireworks be included during major holidays like Christmas, Maslenitsa (the last week before Lent), and New Year’s Day.
Japan used fireworks as part of a memorial service for victims of a local famine, which began the popularization of using fireworks in Japanese culture.
Italian pyrotechnicians brought more color into the pyrotechnics by adding chlorinated powder and metallic salts such as barium for green and copper for blue.
Cherry bombs were banned in the U.S., but were successfully smuggled in by bootleggers so pranksters could blow up toilets throughout America.
Today, in addition to July 4, we invoke fireworks every time we stand and sing our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” at ballgames: “The rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air ….” It’s literally written into our nation’s history.