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What is the History of Fireworks?

Fireworks.
Fireworks contain gunpowder.
Firecrackers and fireworks can be traced back to 1st Century China.
Marco Polo is credited with bringing fireworks to Europe during the 13th century.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 27 July 2014
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The history of fireworks is quite lengthy, which explains why pyrotechnics are so closely associated with celebrations and major events. Over the centuries, the uses of fireworks have expanded considerably, with fireworks appearing at parades, weddings, parties, and major national holidays all over the world. The majority of fireworks production also continues to be focused in the regions where fireworks have been made historically, including China, Italy, and Germany.

The illustrious history of fireworks began around the first century BCE, when the Chinese invented gunpowder. By the 10th century CE, the Chinese were producing fireworks for Chinese New Year and other celebrations, using crackers to scare off evil spirits and promote prosperity. Early Chinese fireworks were basically firecrackers, designed to make a loud bang and a puff of smoke, although early versions of rockets were documented by the 12th century.

Marco Polo is generally credited with bringing fireworks to Europe in the 13th century, and they turned out to be a big hit, along with numerous other Eastern innovations. In Italy and Germany, several producers of fireworks began to emerge, attempting to replicate the closely guarded gunpowder formula to make their own fireworks. Italy made the next major contribution to the history of fireworks by developing self-propelled aerial shells which could be forced up high before exploding for a dramatic fireworks display; this development took place in the 18th century.

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With the development of aerial shells, the history of fireworks took off, and producers began vying to make ever more elaborate and complex fireworks which would explode into radical and colorful designs. Fireworks displays began getting quite lengthy, and they featured exotic colors, designs, and shapes which were meant to captivate viewers, a far cry from the lowly crackers of the 10th century.

In the 20th century, fireworks producers began to be concerned about pollution from fireworks. Many of the chemicals which create the vivid colors associated with fireworks displays are quite harmful, and fireworks also generate a lot of pollution through partial combustion. As a result, some manufacturers began trying to produce more environmentally friendly fireworks which would generate less smoke and pollution.

While the history of fireworks has come quite a way from spirit-frightening crackers, pyrotechnics displays continue to astound people all over the world, and the distinctive popping and bright colors of fireworks are closely associated with major celebrations in the eyes of many people. Fireworks displays are typically very well-attended as a result, and companies which specialize in fireworks can command high prices for their services, especially on major holidays.

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Discuss this Article

matthewc23
Post 4

One thing that I really wonder is when did fireworks ever become associated with the 4th of July, otherwise known as Independence Day in the United States?

I know that fireworks come with many different types of celebrations, but it is so associated in the United States with the 4th of July that it is a staple of the economy during that time period in the middle of summer.

I really have to wonder when this tradition got started and who started as well as why? It seems to me like this tradition has been around forever and that is has not evolved much over the years. Because of this fact it seems to me that people's liking of fireworks on the anniversary of their Independence may date back to the beginning of the Republic or could be a marketing thing that occurred recently that was capitalized on, but I really have to wonder.

Izzy78
Post 3

People seem to really love fireworks and I have to wonder exactly how fireworks have changed over the years and how the technology of fireworks has expanded since their creation in 10th century China.

I know that fireworks have gotten a lot more complex, but in reality they are controlled explosives that are designed for entertainment purposes, so I am wondering when they started to become designed for things like light displays and shows producing very complex images in the sky?

I also have to wonder if this was an American staple or if this idea was around for centuries before?

TreeMan
Post 2

@jcraig - You are correct to wonder as to why they did not utilize their technology better. The truth I believe is that they simply did not think to use it as something for battle, because they were afraid of the explosiveness that fireworks had.

In reality back then fireworks were really unpredictable an in an area, where there are lives and nations at stake, they decided not to use these in war because they were afraid they would not be able to harness the power that came from the fireworks.

It is easy to say they were so far ahead of everyone else and say they could have expanded their empire, but in reality their technology was not available to harness the power of fireworks to be used as a weapon, otherwise they would have done so.

jcraig
Post 1

It never ceases to amaze me how the Chinese were able to invent gunpowder and fireworks very early on in history, centuries ahead of everyone else, yet never thought to use this technology as a weapon until others already had done so.

I find this all too interesting too because China had such a vast empire during this time and they could have had even more if they had further developed their technology. Instead it was not until the 13th century that countries began looking at fireworks as a potential weapon that could be used to defeat enemies.

I wonder if there is some reason as to why the Chinese chose not to advance the technology they had or if it was something that they simply overlooked, which would be amazing if that were the case.

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