All about fireworks

January 6, 2008

Let's open the new year with a bang...

The first fireworks were provbably made in China 2000 years ago. They are used to celebrate weddings, religious festivals and keep evil spirits away. It is believed that gunpowder was discovered accidentally by a Chinese alchemist who mixed sulphur and salt peter (potassium nitrate) over a fire. The Chinese name for gunpowder is "huo yao" (fire chemical).

Placing gun powder into bamboo stalks and then throwing them onto a fire to be ignited produced a louder and more powerful bang; hence the firecracker was born. Fireworks were soon applied to warfare by attaching them to arrows. The first such use, circa 1200 A.D., involved placing powder into paper tubes with a fuse or a trail of gunpowder wrapped in tissue paper that was attached to the arrows.

The first recorded fireworks in England were at the wedding of King henry VII in 1486. Fireworks became very popular in Great Britain during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. William Shakespeare mentions fireworks in his works, and fireworks were so much enjoyed by the Queen herself that she created a "Fire Master of England." King James II was so pleased with the fireworks display that celebrated his coronation that he knighted his Fire Master.

The first fireworks recorded in America were set off by an Englishman, capt. john Smith, famous int he story of Jamestown in 1608

The world's largest single firework was set off at a festival in Japan in 1988. The shell weighed half-a-ton and the burst was over a kilometer across. The biggest fireworks event in the world is held in Madeira, Portugal at the New Years' Eve celebrations, as referred in the Guinness World Records.
In 1996, a string of firecrackers were lit that lasted 22 hours for the Chinese New Year in Hong Kong.

An aerial shell has 2 fuses. The user lights the external fuse, and a second, internal fuse burns as the shell flies up igniting the burst or break.

The first Independence Day fireworks celebration was in 1776, and was memorialized by then future President John Adams as follows: "The day (Independence Day) will be the most memorable in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade...bonfires and illuminations (fireworks) from one end of this continent to the other, from this day forward forevermore."

Static electricity in synthetic clothing can ignite fireworks. Those who make fireworks wear cotton all the way down to their underwear.

The most dangerous fireworks-related tragedy in the world occurred on May 16, 1770, during the marriage of King Louis XVI to Maria Antoinette. After the celebratory fireworks show, there was a stampede where approximately 800 people where killed.

The earliest recorded use of gunpowder in England, and probably the western world, is by the Franciscan monk Roger Bacon.

Early fireworks were enjoyed more for the sound than the show—in its simplest forms gunpowder explodes quickly, leaving a terrific bang but not much to see other than a rather brief golden glow. Over time people discovered that using chemical compounds with greater amounts of oxygen made the explosives burn brighter and longer.

The multi-hued displays we know now began in the 1830s, when Italians added trace amounts of metals that burn at high temperatures, creating beautiful colors. Other additives also produced interesting effects. For example, calcium deepens colors, titanium makes sparks, and zinc creates smoke clouds.



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