By Brian Roulston
Canada Day or America’s Independence Day wouldn’t be the same without fireworks. Who can resist hearing the loud cackling of fireworks and seeing bright streaks of color shooting up into the night sky?
It has been debated for centuries who actually created the first fireworks India or China. India claims to have known about gunpowder, a proponent of fireworks, since 300 BC according to Sanskrit texts which refers saltpeter (a proponent of gunpowder) as ‘Agnichurma’. Saltpeter produces a purple flame and was used to confuse attacking military forces and also as primitive fireworks in celebrations such as holidays and weddings by the well to do set in India.
China claims that between 600 BC and 900 BC Alchemists were mixing chemicals in the search for eternal life. An alchemist mixed sulpher, charcoal and saltpeter into bamboo or paper tubes. When nothing happened the alchemist threw the tubes into a small open fire not knowing what would happen. The alchemist had created what the Chinese perceived as history’s first fireworks. Initially, the Chinese used this new invention to frighten off the mountain men and keep evil spirits away. The Chinese then adapted this gunpowder for military use, by stuffing bamboo shoots tied to arrows. They would then shoot this mixture at enemy forces in a rain of fire. During peace times the Chinese began to experiment further with gunpowder thus creating sparklers, light fountains and rockets.
America’s first 4th of July fireworks celebration in 1777 was vastly different from today’s, there were no reds, no blues and no white stars. The only visible color available at the time was orange. Still, it was an uplifting and patriotic celebration. Over the next 53 years firework celebrations would remain relatively unchanged until Italian pyro-technicians’ in 1830 started adding chlorinated powders and metallic salts such as copper for blue and strontium & lithium for red. This gave us the modern fireworks we know today with many vibrant colors.
The Italians are also credited with inventing the aerial shell which is shaped like an ice cream cone with the fuel in the bottom and firework chemicals on top. Walt Disney World in Florida uses compressed air to launch fireworks into the air and they are considered as the largest consumer of fireworks in the U.S.
China exports more fireworks than any other country in the world today. The factories that manufacture fireworks are ideally located in China where they are surrounded by mountains and the humidity is perfect for both the production of fireworks and storage.