In ancient China when fireworks were first created they weren’t used to mark celebrations. Instead fireworks were used as part of spiritual ceremonies and rituals. Even earlier than this, bamboo ‘firecrackers’ were used to ward off evil spritis with loud noises, a tradition that still occurs on Chinese New Year today.
In fact, fireworks weren’t even created for spiritual ceremonies in the first place. Legend has it that a cook in ancient China invented the earliest form of a firework when he accidentally mixed three ingredients commonly found in the kitchen at that time: potassium nitrate (saltpetre, used for curing meats), charcoal, and sulphur, setting light to the mixture. The resultant sparks, colours, and effects began the journey to the firework we know today.
People in ancient China would throw them into a fire to produce a loud bang and a small explosion. Later, paper cylinders were filled with gunpowder to minim the same effect.
The most expensive display on record was held in honour of the 50th anniversary of the ratification of Kuwait’s Constitution. The display encompassed a massive 77,282 fireworks.
Many people think fireworks were invented as an afterthought to gunpowder, but actually, it was the other way round. English scholar Roger Bacon discovered gunpowder when he identified saltpetre as the explosive element of a firework. He wrote his findings in code to delay the discovery leading to more violent warfare. Find out more about the invention of fireworks in our blog.
King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York celebrated their marriage in 1486 with a medieval firework display, the first of its kind in the United Kingdom. Today, wedding fireworks are a popular, exciting addition to many wedding receptions.
Fireworks continued to be enjoyed by the royal family in England after Henry VIII’s wedding, particularly by Queen Elizabeth I, who appointed a royal position for the best fireworks maker in the land: the Fire Master of England.
Created by the Iglesia Ni Cristo in the Philippines, the 2016 New Year firework show was the largest ever recorded, lasting for longer than one hour.
Every November, before the state opening, the houses of parliament are checked by the Yeomen of the Guard for concealed explosives or terrorists. Although this is more of a custom than a serious precaution now as more stringent anti-terrorism measures are in place
A squib is a cylindrical paper explosive with a fuse that acts as a sort of firework. Get one damp and it fails to ignite and go off hence the expression which is used to describe something of disappointing results.
Until 1959, it was against the law in the UK for anyone to refrain from marking the historical day. The only establishment that was excused was St Peter’s School in York, where Guy Fawkes was a pupil.
Or at least their name is. When Nero was emperor of ancient Rome, Christians were blamed for the cause, and lack of adequate response to, the Great Fire of Rome. As punishment, the emperor had Christians tied to the top of tall stakes in the palace gardens and coated with various flammable substances like oil and pitch, then set alight. Today the Roman candle firework is a lot less horrific!
The Catherine wheel firework also has its name origin in violence. The firework is named after Saint Catherine of Alexandria who was sentenced to death by ‘breaking on the wheel’, a painful death whereby the accused has their bones broken by force with a wooden spoked wheel. When Saint Catherine touched the wheel it broke into pieces.
The Walt Disney company spend an incredible $50 million each year on fireworks for the multiple displays it curates at Disneyland resorts around the world.
Which means ‘fire flower’. They are also known as ‘havai fişek’ in Turkish meaning ‘air cracker’.
In fact, Ireland, Argentina, Australia, Chile, and Colombia have banned their sale to the general public entirely. People misusing fireworks and trying to create dangerous homemade fireworks lead to tougher restrictions on their sale to stop people from being put at risk of harm.
In the beginning, they only consisted of orange and while sparks and flame, after fireworks were brought to Europe Italians began to experiment with them, adding different chemicals like chlorates of barium, copper, strontium, and sodium lead to different coloured effects. Now fireworks are available in a huge spectrum of colours.
Despite years of experimenting, pyrotechnicians have not yet been able to recreate this colour.
The name given to an irrational fear of fireworks.
Not something anyone would get away with today, Elvis loved fireworks and held an annual firework game called ‘War’ in which two teams would fire fireworks at one another from either side of the prairie behind Graceland. Players were known to don “flight suits, racing helmets, goggles and rags” to protect themselves from the explosives.
In the Pennsylvania Evening Post they were described as “ a grand exhibition of fireworks (which began and concluded with thirteen rockets) on the Commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated.” They became a permanent fixture of Independence Day from then on.
Stars that explode out from the main effect of a firework can be coated in multiple layers of different metals salts so when one layer is burned through a new colour appears.
Launched in February 2020 the largest firework ever created shot up at a speed of 300 miles per hour for Colorado’s Winter Carnival.
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