Home » Blog » 4th of July and Fireworks…What’s The Deal? A History of How Fireworks Came To Be
4th of July and Fireworks…What’s The Deal? A History of How Fireworks Came To Be

4th of July and Fireworks…What’s The Deal? A History of How Fireworks Came To Be

Like decorating the Christmas tree, painting Easter eggs, or pretending you’re Irish for a day, traditions are a big part of why we love the holidays. That, and of course those occasional days off. But it’s a lot more than just sentimental value, traditions reinforce togetherness through a shared contextual understanding, almost becoming the more definitive aspect of a holiday than the actual reason for the celebration itself.

One of our favorite holiday traditions, hands-down has to be the fireworks on July 4th. You can’t imagine 4th of July without fireworks. Literally every state, city, and town across the country, both large and small, turn out some sort of showing for America’s B-day. With a fireworks display often being the centerpiece of the event.

Take your pick at some of the biggest cities in the country and you’re sure to find a lavish fireworks spectacle as part of their July 4th tradition. New York City has The Macy’s Annual Fourth of July Spectacular, San Diego has The Annual Big Bay Boom, and Chicago’s Navy Pier 4th of July Fireworks Show is always a treat.

Now, at first, it may seem like fireworks are just a commercial commodity, something invented solely for cathartic celebrations and what not. But that couldn’t be any further from the truth…well, somewhat. Fireworks actually have a pretty long, rich history that; while yes, includes celebratory rituals, also gives some insight into the thought processes of people from ancient times. As well as offering insight into man’s innate desire to innovate.

You might be surprised by some facets of fireworks’ history; like the various spiritual usages they had upon their initial inception. We’re going for a trip through time to fully understand our fascination with sparks, bright lights, and flare.

The First Fireworks

We can see the first instances of fireworks being traced as far back as the 3rd century B.C. According to some historians, it was around this time that a very primitive form of fireworks was created in ancient China. How primitive you may ask? Well, how’s about a searing, burnt, exploding piece of Bamboo.

You heard that right, the original firecrackers were Bamboo. If you didn’t already know, the hollow nature of a bamboo stalk allows for a sizeable amount of air to get trapped inside. Throw in some fire and let that bamboo burn until “POP” and there you have it.

It is believed the Chinese used these “firecrackers” to ward off evil spirits, ghosts, and the like. One of the ways this would be done was by throwing multiple bamboos into a burning pile, they theorized the loud sounds made from the exploding bamboo would scare off whatever demon was plaguing a given area.

As you would imagine, ridding an area of evil spirits was a cause for celebration. And henceforth, the burning of bamboo, and their subsequent loud crackles became a symbol for ceremonies. Which of course, stands true to this very day.

July 4th Tradition
Okay, we kind of see it now.

“It’s not rocket science”….Well Actually

These, however, are only “technically” fireworks when all things are considered. You can’t really begin the history of fireworks without starting at Gunpowder. You could even say the advent of gunpowder and fireworks are one and the same. Although, even in the third century B.C., China was already 2/3rds of the way to creating fireworks.

It is said that during The Han Dynasty, Daoist alchemist, in search of a potion for eternal life, conjured a concoction of; you guessed it, potassium nitrate and sulfur. Now while they’re elixir for immortality didn’t quite work as planned, without these early innovations, the invention of gunpowder, and by extension fireworks, wouldn’t be possible.

It wasn’t until around 618 A.D. that the final, and most important ingredient was added to the mix to create gunpowder, and legend has it this discovery was found completely on accident.

According to the tale, a cook mistakenly added charcoal into a mix of potassium nitrate and sulfur. This created a dazzling trifecta of light, sound, and power that would change the world forever.

After this discovery, the typical bamboo “firecracker” became a little more complex. The once empty stalks were now being filled with this new-found invention, and the results were a much more dynamic. Pretty soon, paper tubes were being used in place of bamboo for a greater effect.

And then, everyone else joined in on the fun

These fireworks, however, lacked the variety of color we’re used to today. It wasn’t until a couple of centuries later when the rest of the world caught on that we begin to see numerous innovations in pyrotechnics. As fireworks began to make there way across the globe, many parts of Europe took a strong liking to them. The Italians, Germans, and English, in particular, took the fireworks game to the next level.

They began mixing various metals and chemicals to react with the three main ingredients to create a variety of colors; before then fireworks only exuded black, white, or often orange smoke. Other innovations include the aerial shells that when lit, helped propel fireworks to new heights. Literally.

Okay, that’s all good, but how did sparks and colorful explosions become a pivotal set piece for the 4th of July? Surprisingly enough, many of the first American Revolutionaries we’re extremely delighted to have fireworks be apart of the celebrations. In fact, John Adams (2nd U.S. president) wanted fireworks to be apart of the July 4th celebrations from the very beginning.

In a letter to his wife predating the signing of the Declaration of Independence, he wrote in great detail how he envisioned the celebration of independence, and fireworks were a key part of his proposed celebration; an interesting tidbit about Adams is that it shows just how ingrained fireworks are to July 4th tradition.

July 4th On The Water

We Keep The July 4th Tradition Going Strong

If you find yourself in a city with a fantastic July 4th fireworks ensemble, wouldn’t you want to get the best views possible? We think so. Every year, we throw a litany of amazing patriotic parties across this great nation to celebrate The USA’s Birthday.

Our plethora of fantastic fireworks party cruises range from events fit for the family, to immense nightlife parties. Our extremely fun July 4th party cruises take you across the waters of some of the finest cities in the country, and give you the absolute best vantage point for the spectacle.

This July 4th, continues the tradition with the party pros, and watch the night skies illuminate with glorious colors on a fantastic yacht. Click here for the full ensemble of our patriotic waterside parties.