One of the most memorable parts of summer is only days away. Since I live in a beach town, I’m mentally bracing myself for the influx of tourists, vacationers, and partiers that is sure to happen tomorrow. On Friday thousands of people across the country are going to be hitting the beach, barbecuing, attending carnivals, getting well acquainted with beer, and celebrating all that is America. Aside from hot dogs, hamburgers, and beer one of the most common (and most looked forward to) aspects of the Independence Day holiday are fireworks. Without fireworks the Fourth just wouldn’t feel complete. But where did our explosive entertainment come from?
While some argue their roots can be traced back to India or the Middle East, most historians believe fireworks originated in China. As early as 200 B.C. Chinese villagers stumbled upon naturally occurring firecrackers and began using them during rituals and cultural ceremonies. To make the delightful noise that everyone seems to love, they would roast bamboo, which explodes and creates a loud bang when it is heated due to its hollow air pockets. The people believed that these loud explosions would scare and ward off any evil spirits lurking nearby.
As with many people throughout history, eventually curiosity and science came into play and Chinese chemists mixed together saltpeter, charcoal, sulfur, and other things to create an early form of gunpowder. They then stuffed the new substance into their bamboo sticks before throwing them into a fire. Thus, the first fireworks were born.
From that moment on, fireworks became a huge part of celebrating events, particularly military victories and religious ceremonies. So how did they make their way overseas and become part of our Independence Day celebration?
Fireworks have been a part of our Fourth of July since the very first one. It was John Adams who was the first to propose having fireworks become part of the celebrations. In a letter to his wife he wrote, “The day will be most memorable in the history of America. I am apt to believe 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 the continent to the other, from this time foreword forevermore.”
And it looks like John Adams was right because on each anniversary of the 4th to this day fireworks have lit up our sky in celebration of our independence as a nation.