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Home » From Ancient China to Today – A History of Fireworks

From Ancient China to Today – A History of Fireworks

Americans will soon be getting prepared to celebrate Independence Day on July 4th with fireworks. Even in the current era of mediocrity fireworks still remain awe-inspiring to us and make us swoon.

The First Fireworks

Fireworks first came into existence in the year 200 BC during the time that the ancient Chinese were known to cook bamboo pieces in an oven. Bamboo’s hollow spaces would explode and evil spirits would be warded off.

In 900 AD during the Tang Dynasty, Chinese alchemists were mixing saltpeter (potassium Nitrate), charcoal and sulfur, which was a earliest version of gunpowder.

They then stuffed it inside hollowed-out bamboo sticks, and then cooked the bamboo sticks to create the sound of a blast. Today, fireworks are element of Chinese New Year and the mid-autumn Moon Festivals.

In the 10th century, the Chinese had learned that the fireworks could be affixed to arrows and create primitive bombs. In the 12th century, they had learned how to blast the explosives up into the air, thereby creating the first aerial display.

In 1240 AD, the Arabs were well-versed in gunpowder as well as its applications from China. Arab writers often referred to fireworks, rockets and other incendiaries by the name of “Chinese blooms.”

The 13th century witnessed an increase in trade, and formulas for gunpowder began showing up across Europe in Europe and Arabia. Alchemists began tinkering with the formula and they created even stronger gunpowder for use in muskets and cannons.

In England fireworks experts were referred to in the English language as “firemasters,” and their assistants were called “green people,” due to the fact that they wore caps constructed out of leaves. This was to protect them from sparks from the fireworks.

Fireworks in Europe

In the Renaissance in Europe, there were fireworks schools to train artists. Fireworks were also popular in Italy. During the 1830s, the Italians included trace amounts of metallic elements so that they could create multi-colored display.

The use of fireworks was prevalent at ceremonies for religious and public celebrations and were made popular among European rulers. The earliest recorded celebration of fireworks during the history of Great Britain took place on Henry VII’s wedding day in 1486. Henry VII was the father of the well-known Henry VIII.

In France there were fireworks as an integral part of the celebrations for guests at Versailles In Russia, Czar Peter the Great performed a five-hour fireworks display on the occasion of an infant son’s birth.

On the 15th of May 1749, the English Duke of Richmond put on a fireworks spectacle in Whitehall in the River Thames, for the benefit of King George II to celebrate the signing of the treaty that marked the end of the War of Austrian Succession. In honor of the occasion, musician George Frideric Handel created an accompanying piece of music entitled, “Music for the Royal Fireworks.”

Unfortunately some of the fireworks fell on the pavilion that houses the other fireworks. The fireworks ignited at once 3 spectators were killed.

The New World

Captain John Smith may have set off the first fireworks in the Jamestown Colony in 1608.

On the 4th of July 1777, fireworks commemorated America’s first birthday. In 1789, George Washington’s inauguration was celebrated with a fireworks show.

The day prior to that the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, John Adams wrote for his wife

“The day will be one of the most remembered in the history and culture of America, … I am apt to believe that the event will honored in the future generations as the great anniversary festival. It should be celebrated with pomp and the parade … bonfires and illuminations [fireworks] … across the one side of the continent to the next, from this time forward forevermore.”

Around the globe, countries use fireworks to mark the occasion.

France is known for its fireworks. It’s the eve of Bastille Day (July 14) to commemorate the storming of Bastille in 1789. Hungary will set off fireworks on the 20th of August, and in India fireworks are included in their “festival with lights” (Diwali) which occurs either in November or October each year.

Japan has over 200 celebrations of fireworks during the month of August with the largest in Tondabayashi along with Osaka. To be precise, when you’re in Monte Carlo, fireworks are part of the National Day of Monaco on November 18th.

Singapore has its Singapore Fireworks Celebrations on its National Day. In Switzerland the fireworks go off during the country’s national celebration day August 1st.

Great Britain uses fireworks on Guy Fawkes Night, on November 5, to commemorate the end of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. Massive fireworks displays take place within the city that include Sheffield, Holyhead, Inverness, Cambridge, and Cardiff.

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in the U.S., on the 4th of July, there will be large fireworks shows in New York City over the Hudson River, along the Charles River in Boston, as well as at the National Mall in Washington DC.

If you’ve visited one of the Disney parks, you’re aware that the night typically ends with a spectacular fireworks display.

In 2004, Disneyland, in Anaheim, California, pioneered the use of compressed air instead of gunpowder to launch its fireworks. They also used an electronic timer to explode the shells at mid-air. This led to less fumes and greater precision in height and timing.

Presently, the Walt Disney Company is the largest consumer of fireworks within the U.S.