Where Does the Idea of Fireworks Come From?


Many researchers believe China was the first, some say it came from the Middle East or India

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

According to History.com, “On July 3, 1776, the day before the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife in which he presaged the role of fireworks in Fourth of July celebrations. ‘The day will be most memorable in the history of America,’ he predicted. ‘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 [a term for fireworks]…from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.’”

His prediction came true the following year, and have continued ever since to mark Independence Day.

Though many local municipalities set off fireworks displays at various times all summer, some northern venues cannot host fireworks displays at any point in the summer because it doesn’t get dark enough. Point Barrow, Alaska, for example, waits until New Year’s Day to brighten a time of year when sunlight is scarce.

Before the U.S, the Chinese had used fireworks as early as 200 B.C., according to www.history.com. Bamboo provides a kind of ground-level firework because it burst with a loud sound when roasted over a fire. Its hollow channels cause the explosion.

“At some point between 600 and 900 A.D., Chinese alchemists—perhaps hoping to discover an elixir for immortality—mixed together saltpeter (potassium nitrate, then a common kitchen seasoning), charcoal, sulfur and other ingredients, unwittingly yielding an early form of gunpowder,” the History Channel website states. “The Chinese began stuffing the volatile substance into bamboo shoots that were then thrown into the fire to produce a loud blast. The first fireworks were born.”

The Chinese used early fireworks to keep evil spirits away and for special celebrations. They discovered that lobbing fiery sticks at enemy forces helped them win battles. In the 1830s, the Italians added small amounts of metal to fireworks so that they lit up the sky with many colors instead of the orange and yellow colors previously achievable.

Shooting off fireworks seems a natural way for many countries celebrate and commemorate military victories since fireworks are so similar to the devices used in warfare.