Since their inception, fireworks have permeated our global culture. Enchanting spectators with their deafening cry and brilliant displays, they’ve become a staple in our celebratory repertoire to commemorate New Years, military triumphs, the birth of a nation, birthdays and a whole host of special occasions.
But how did these amazing aerial explosives come to be?
Fireworks came to be about 2,000 years ago. Through chance, they were discovered, or invented, by a Chinese cook working in a field kitchen who happened to mix charcoal, sulfur and saltpeter–common kitchen items in those days. The mixture burned and exploded when compressed in bamboo tubes.
Not long after, firecrackers were created and credited to Chinese monk Li Tian. Tian’s firecrackers were first used to ward off evil spirits and ghosts, as the people of the time believed they were effective in frightening malevolent spirits.
Fireworks’ remained in the Orient for some years and were relegated to religious ceremonies and guarding against evil. Their spread to greater Europe is ambiguous but generally credited to either Marco Polo or the Crusaders bringing gunpowder back from the Orient.
When gunpowder arrived in Europe it was first purposed for military activity in early rockets, canons and firearms, but the Italians are reputed to be the first to experiment and imbue trace amounts of metals and additives to create multi-colored hues.
Overtime, fireworks found favor among the nobles of the time who would utilize it dazzle their citizenry and illuminate castles for special occasions, such as birthdays or military and religious celebrations. French royals and Russian Czars were renowned for employing fireworks to light up Versailles and Russia in to celebrate births or coronations.
With the march of time and the discovery of the Americas, fireworks came to the new world and entered regular use to celebrate feats. Indeed, it is said John Adams remarked to his wife in 1776 that fireworks would become a staple in celebrating the fledgling nation’s anniversaries.
The following year, fireworks marked the anniversary of the nation’s first birthday and were used to celebrate the inauguration of George Washington and all the presidents that have followed him. Since then, they have been used to celebrate events of national importance, such as the return of American troops from Desert Storm, and widely celebrated holidays like New Year’s Eve.
Dazzling and mesmerizing, fireworks are a staple in contemporary celebrations, and since their inadvertent discovery, they’ve been used for an array of reasons. From warding off evil spirits and religious ceremonies to celebrating the birth of nations and coronations of royalty, fireworks have permeated every facet of our society and continue to evoke awe-inspiring wonder among children and adults alike.