For the first time, we were able to sit at a comfortable spot to watch the fireworks in its entirety. We laid down on slightly graded landscape that seemed to be made just for laying down to watch fireworks launched from the river behind COSI.
It was very crowded where we were. We marked our spot 4 hours before scheduled launch time. At the end of the day, it was worth it.
During the fireworks display, I started to think. Who invented fireworks? What was it’s initial purpose?
We don’t know for sure, but the most popular legend has it that a Chinese cook accidentally spilled saltpeter into a cooking fire, resulting in a colorful display. Saltpeter was used in the early days to flavor dishes and is actually an ingredient in gunpowder.
It was later discovered that when you enclose the powder in a tube it would explode. Somewhere between 960-1279 during the Song Dynasty, fireworks were used by the Chinese to celebrate the new year and to scare off evil spirits. The louder the firework the better.
Fireworks didn’t become rockets until later as gunpowder technology became more advanced. Rockets were hand carved wood and designed to look like dragons to also scare off early invaders of China.
It didn’t take long for other nations to recognize and mimic the technology.
Today, the technology has advanced tremendously. Using gunpowder to launch fireworks is now a thing of the past; compressed air is now used instead. Electronic timers are also used to help synchronize the displays to music and resulting in less smoke and fumes.
In the United States, fireworks are mostly used during Independence Day celebrations. You can thank John Adams, who served on the Second Continental Congress at the time and eventually become our 2nd President, for the beautifully lightened up skies. He wrote the following words to Abigail Adams (his wife and mother of John Quincy Adams, our 6th President) the day before the Declaration of Independence was signed,
“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
The first fireworks display were set off on July 4, 1777, a year after the declaration of independence was signed with 13 rockets. It has since become one of the most popular spectacles in America, bringing in hundreds of thousands of people together every year.
So, the next time you see a firecracker or firework go off, just remember that it all started with a clumsy cook who accidentally spilled a key ingredient into a fire. 🙂
Happy Independence Day America!