Fireworks Have Illuminating History
On July 4th weekend, fireworks lit up the skies over Queens in celebration of our country’s independence.
However, fireworks were used long before 1776, for reasons other than patriotic holidays. Their origins trace back to early Chinese history, where legend tells us a cook had accidentally dropped saltpeter into the fire. Saltpeter is an ingredient in gunpowder.
Dried bamboo rods were sometimes thrown into fire to create fuel, which cracked and popped until they eventually exploded. Some suggest these may have been the first firecrackers. The use of bamboo as explosives grew with the invention of gunpowder, dated during the Song Dynasty between the years 960 and 1279, which was funneled into the bamboo and lit to create an explosion.
The routine use of these fireworks became popular for New Year’s celebrations, supposedly to scare away evil spirits at the start of the new year with the loud noises they made. Once gunpowder was brought to Europe in the 13th Century, pyrotechnics grew fairly quickly, specifically in Italy and Germany during the Renaissance. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, fireworks became increasingly popular in Great Britain, as well.
The role of fireworks originally had its place in religious celebrations, but advanced to holidays such as New Year’s and patriotic celebrations in Britain and the Americas. On July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote:
“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.”