History and Fun Facts
The earliest documentation of fireworks dates back to 7th century China (time of the Tang Dynasty), where they were invented. The fireworks were used to accompany many festivities. It is thus a part of the culture of China and had its origin there; eventually it spread to other cultures and societies. The art and science of firework making has developed into an independent profession. In China, pyrotechnicians were respected for their knowledge of complex techniques in mounting firework displays. Chinese people originally believed that the fireworks could expel evil spirits and bring about luck and happiness.
During the Song Dynasty (960–1279), many of the common people could purchase various kinds of fireworks from market vendors, and grand displays of fireworks were also known to be held. In 1110, a large fireworks display in a martial demonstration was held to entertain Emperor Huizong of Song (r. 1100–1125) and his court. A record from 1264 states that a rocket-propelled firework went off near the Empress Dowager Gong Sheng and startled her during a feast held in her honor by her son Emperor Lizong of Song (r. 1224–1264). Rocket propulsion was common in warfare, as evidenced by the Huolongjing compiled by Liu Bowen (1311–1375) and Jiao Yu (fl. c. 1350–1412). In 1240 the Arabs acquired knowledge of gunpowder and its uses from China. A Syrian named Hasan al-Rammah wrote of rockets, fireworks, and other incendiaries, using terms that suggested he derived his knowledge from Chinese sources, such as his references to fireworks as “Chinese flowers”.
With the development of chinoiserie in Europe, Chinese fireworks began to gain popularity around the mid-17th century. Lev Izmailov, ambassador of Peter the Great, once reported from China: “They make such fireworks that no one in Europe has ever seen.” In 1758, the Jesuit missionary Pierre Nicolas le Chéron d’Incarville, living in Beijing, wrote about the methods and composition on how to make many types of Chinese fireworks to the Paris Academy of Sciences, which revealed and published the account five years later. His writings would be translated in 1765, resulting in the popularization of fireworks and further attempts to uncover the secrets of Chinese fireworks.
America’s earliest settlers brought their enthusiasm for fireworks to the United States. Fireworks and black ash were used to celebrate important events long before the American Revolutionary War. The very first celebration of Independence Day was in 1777, six years before Americans knew whether the new nation would survive the war; fireworks were a part of all festivities. In 1789, George Washington‘s inauguration was also accompanied by a fireworks display. This early fascination with their noise and color continues today.
In 2004, Disneyland in Anaheim, California, pioneered the commercial use of aerial fireworks launched with compressed air rather than gunpowder. The display shell explodes in the air using an electronic timer. The advantages of compressed air launch are a reduction in fumes, and much greater accuracy in height and timing.
The Walt Disney Company is the largest consumer of fireworks in the United States.
FIREWORKS FUN FACTS
– Fireworks use in the United States increased 2½ time since 1992 going from 87,100,000 pounds in 1992 to 220,800,000 in 2003. During the same period, actual injuries decreased over 70% going from 14.3 injuries per 100,000 pounds of fireworks used in 1992 to only 4.2 injuries per 100,000 pounds of fireworks used in 2003.
– Italians were the first to manufacture fireworks in Europe.
– 30 years ago professional fireworks shows lasted on average over an hour, in comparison to today’s shows which last approximately 20 minutes.
– Static electricity in synthetic clothing can ignite fireworks. Those who make fireworks wear cotton all the way down to their underwear.
– Settlers brought fireworks to the U.S. during 1600s.
– Placing gun powder into bamboo stalks and then throwing them onto a fire to be ignited produced a louder and more powerful bang; hence the firecracker was born.
– Fireworks were soon applied to warfare by attaching them to arrows. The first such use, circa 1200 A.D., involved placing powder into paper tubes with a fuse or a trail of gunpowder wrapped in tissue paper that was attached to the arrows.
– The first fireworks were actually green bamboo that were thrown into fires to scare spirits away in ancient China, called “pas chuk.”