12360088_195014847507272_5027411099863422723_nThe earliest documentation of fireworks dates back to 7th century China where they were first used to frighten away evil spirits with their loud sound and to pray for happiness and prosperity. They mixed together saltpeter (potassium nitrate), charcoal, sulfur and other ingredients, which brought about an early form of gunpowder. They began stuffing the powder into bamboo shoots that when thrown into a fire would produce a loud blast. They then used paper tubes instead of bamboo stalks which became the start of fireworks.

By the 10th century, they began attaching firecrackers to arrows that rained down on their adversaries during military battles. Two hundred years later, they learned how to fire them into the air and guide them toward enemy targets. This eventually led to fireworks masters putting on the first aerial displays. Fireworks would eventually make their way to Europe through diplomats, missionaries, and they became as popular there as they were in China.

The Renaissance would bring about pyrotechnic schools that trained people to become full fledged firework artists. In the 1830s, Italy became the first to incorporate trace amounts of metals and other additives, creating the bright, multihued sparks and sunbursts that we know today. In England, the earliest recorded display took place on Henry VII’s wedding day in 1486. Fireworks experts were known as firemasters. Their assistants were called “green men” because they wore caps of leaves to protect their heads from sparks, they also were used as jesters, entertaining the crowd with jokes as they prepared the displays.

Europeans brought their love of fireworks to the New World. On July 3, 1776, the day before the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife in which he presaged the role of fireworks in Fourth of July celebrations. “The day will be most memorable in the history of America,” he predicted. “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade…bonfires and illuminations…from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.”

The following year, fireworks displays were prominent for the country’s first anniversary, just as they have after each one since. In the 1890s, rampant detonation of fireworks, caused a number of citizens to form the Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise, which lobbied for restrictions. Today, fireworks are a staple of major celebrations and events.