Hope you have a happy Fourth of July. If you’re like me, you will probably see a ton of fireworks. There’s something fascinating about those splatters of light in the sky –something that tugs at the emotions and captures the imagination.
Everyone in my family has a favorite. A nephew especially enjoys the salutes. My aunt likes the ones that twinkle as they fall.
Ever wonder how these displays came about? Here’s what my research turned up:
1. Most people trace the invention of fireworks/gunpowder to an unfortunate Chinese alchemist who unintentionally heated sulfur and salt peter (potassium nitrate). It was an explosive discovery.
2. The Chinese call gunpowder “huo yao,” which means fire chemical.
3. Early fireworks gave off more bang than light. As they exploded, people saw only a brief golden light.
4. Apparently the Chinese made the first fireworks by shoving gunpowder into bamboo reeds. They exploded them during their New Year’s celebration in hopes of frightening away evil spirits.
5. It’s believed that Marco Polo introduced gunpowder to Europe.
6. Around 1830, Italians began to add trace amounts of metal into the gunpowder, which “colored the explosions.”
7. Copper, for example, creates blue tinted light.
8. Aluminum and magnesium make a golden light.
9. Not surprisingly, other metals make other effects. Zinc creates clouds of smoke and titanium causes sparks.
10. Although onlookers have always enjoyed fireworks, they continue to be dangerous. May 16, 1770, is the date of one of the biggest fireworks tragedies. A fireworks display celebrating the marriage of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette went awry and caused a stampede, which killed some 800 people. Not eight or eighty but 800!
11. Even in recent years, the danger element hasn’t disappeared. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that “fireworks devices were involved in an estimated 8,800 injuries treated in the U.S. hospital emergency departments during the calendar year 2002.”
12. Here’s an interesting statistic. Three times as many males are hurt in fireworks-related incidents than females, according to data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
13. Although I enjoy watching fireworks, I don’t encourage people to set off their own. My suggestion: Consider attending fireworks displays put on by professionals in local parks or on lakefronts.
Correctly handled, fireworks can be a stunning way to celebrate special events. In the United States, we’ve used fireworks to celebrate Independence Day since 1776.
That’s when John Adams declared, “The day (Independence 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.”
But I’d like to hear about your holiday. Are you planning to see the fireworks? Which ones impress you most?