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The History of Fireworks

Written by: Debbie Merlino

On July 3, 1776 John Adams wrote the following to his wife after the Continental Congress proclaimed the American Colonies independent of England. Fireworks were associated with Independence Day prior to the signing of the Declaration.

             “The day will be the most memorable in the history of America
            I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding
           Generations as the great anniversary festival…..It ought to
            Be solemnized with pomp and parade….bonfires and
            Illuminations (fireworks) from one end of this continent
            to the other, from this day forward forevermore.”

The discovery of gun powder and the invention of the first fireworks (bamboo cases or rolled paper tubes filled with explosives) are traditionally credited to the Chinese, although India is also a likely source. The sound of these first firecrackers, which appeared about 1,000 years ago, was so loud the Chinese believed the noise would scare away evil spirits.

By the 13th century, fireworks made their way to Europe, probably carried back from the East by the Crusaders. By the 15th century they were widely used for religious festivals and entertainment.

The Italians were the first Europeans to manufacture fireworks and were the European masters of fireworks making through the end of the 17th century.

Early settlers brought fireworks to the New World where the firing of black powder was used to celebrate holidays and impress the natives.   In 1731 a ban was established in the colony of Rhode Island due to the mischievous use of fireworks.

The first celebration of Independence Day was in 1777, six years before Americans knew whether the new nation would survive the war, and fireworks were a part of the revels.

Americans’ spirit of celebration grew and fireworks became more popular than ever. In the late 18th century, politicians used displays to attract crowds to their speeches. Additionally, in 1892, a 400-year celebration of Columbus landing on our shores lit up the Brooklyn Bridge where over one million people witnessed the event which was considered the greatest show ever seen in the Western Hemisphere.

In modern day America, three of the most famous names in the fireworks industry, Zambelli International, Fireworks by Grucci and Pyro Spectaculars created a memorable event to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Statute of Liberty. This show incorporated 22,000 aerial fireworks which were launched from 30 barges as well as other vantage points. An addition 18,000 set pieces, fountains and colorful low displays were viewed stretching from the East River around the tip of Manhattan up into the Hudson River, around the Statute of Liberty and Ellis Island.

When Americans think of the Fourth of July and the celebration of our nation’s independence, more fireworks are ignited on that day than any other national celebration in the world.