Getting Your Phil: Having a blast doing a little fireworks research

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By Phil Colpas

It’s that time of the year again!

The Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce invites all to attend the 31st Annual Community Fourth of July Fireworks, which will be held at the Siesta Key public beach from 6 to 9:30 p.m. on Monday, July 4.

The fireworks will begin at dusk and are free to view. They are launched from near the volleyball courts at Siesta Public Beach. Fireworks may be viewed from the public beach south to Crescent Beach.

So why do we shoot off fireworks, anyway?

Did you ever wonder why we celebrate our Independence Day by shooting off fireworks? The Farmers’ Almanac has the answer, naturally.

According to the Almanac: The modern displays that we know today originally came from China about 2,000 years ago, when people would heat bamboo stalks until they blackened and exploded under the pressure of heated air inside them — the original firecrackers, if you will.

Gunpowder-fueled explosives didn’t turn up until sometime between 600 A.D. and 900 A.D., when alchemists in China started filling stalks of bamboo with gunpowder.

The first “rockets” were originally Chinese military weapons in the 12th century, but they were unpredictable and dangerous to use. Alchemists began adding steel dust and iron shavings to the mix in order to give fireworks their unique sparkle.

Fireworks come to Europe

Gunpowder and fireworks were brought to Europe in the 13th century via the Silk Road, which allowed trade between Europe and the East. During the Renaissance, Europeans used them at various celebrations, including Anne Boleyn’s coronation as Queen of England in 1533. Peter the Great and King Louis XIV were big fans of fireworks, noted for using them in a variety of celebrations.

Fireworks as an American tradition

There are deep roots in American history for our current fascination with Fourth of July fireworks. Even before the final version of the Declaration of Independence was signed, John Adams envisioned great Independence Day celebrations. He said that the festivities should include: “Pomp and parade, with ‘shews,’ (“Horseshoes,” perhaps?), games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forever more.”

And just what were those “illuminations” to which Adams referred? Yes, indeed: fireworks!

The first fireworks display

Although July 4, 1776 didn’t see any fireworks, in 1777 the first Fourth of July fireworks were lit over Philadelphia’s night sky. Boston also held a display in 1777, and from there the tradition took off. By 1783, the public could purchase all kinds of fireworks for their own Fourth of July celebrations.

In the years following these early celebrations, fireworks have evolved into spectacular displays of pyrotechnics. Today, the American Pyrotechnics Association estimates that more than 14,000 fireworks displays glitter in America’s night skies on Independence Day.

Even though fireworks originated in China 2,000 years ago, they have been an integral part of American culture since our nation was founded. As technology advances and pyrotechnics technicians work hard to create bigger and better displays every year, this is something we can always enjoy as Americans.

Happy Fourth of July!

Phil Colpas
Author: Phil Colpas

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