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The History of Fireworks: What You Need to Know

June 25, 2018

Believe it or not, fireworks are not a modern invention. In fact, they have a storied past that stretches back thousands of years. Curious to know how it all began? Read this guide to learn more about the history of fireworks and how they evolved into the colorful displays we enjoy today.

Chinese Origins

Historians believe the very first fireworks originated in China, specifically in ancient Liuyang. In particular, the Chinese started making firecrackers out of bamboo stalks in about the second century B.C. to help keep away evil spirits.

However, these mini firecrackers soon weren't enough to occupy the Chinese, so they devised a better solution. Alchemists created a solution of sulfur, potassium nitrate, and charcoal to create the first gunpowder. Previously, they had been relying on the air pockets of the bamboo to explode when heated. To make it more interesting and enticing, the Chinese started stuffing these pockets with gunpowder instead. These were finally fireworks-worthy seeing, as they created a loud blast that thrilled and excited.

The Continued Evolution

Now knowing the power of fireworks, the Chinese couldn't stop there. They devised paper tubes to replace the fragile bamboo sticks, allowing them to use the explosions for more than just cleansing the air of bad spirits. They were among the first to discover how to use bombs to attack their enemies, attaching firecrackers to arrows and then launching them into battle.

From here, it was only natural to devise bigger and better explosives that could be powered without the use of arrows. It was eventually this rocket technology that allowed them to create the first aerial fireworks.

The Migration to Europe

Naturally, such a potent weapon couldn't stay secret forever. The formula for gunpowder made its way to Europe in the 13th century, where scientists and military leaders began experimenting with it as much as possible. It was there the musket and cannon emerged; two powerful devices that would change the course of warfare forever.

However, that wasn't the only way that gunpowder was used. People also used to it celebrate religious festivals and as a form of public entertainment. People who handled fireworks were known as firemasters, and their assistants were called green men (aptly named because they wore hats made of leaves to keep their head safe while lighting the fireworks).

Fireworks continued to grow and spread throughout the Renaissance, and the Italians were the first to add metal and other additives to create different colors and sunbursts. From this point forward, fireworks became similar to what we know them as today.

The explosions of the past have changed quite a bit compared to fireworks today. While China is still the world's leading producer of fireworks, and we still use firecrackers to celebrate and delight, there's so much more we can do with our explosives. Bright colors, dazzling sparks, and timed releases are just some of the differences with fireworks today.

See the difference for yourself by checking out the variety of fireworks available in our catalog. Better yet, stop by our warehouse to see our wide selection in person.