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During the American Revolution, the Second Continental Congress led the way for the encouragement of fireworks on the Fourth of July by authorizing a display on July 4, 1777, in Philadelphia, a year after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. At night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks, which began and concluded with thirteen rockets on the commons! But even before the Declaration of Independence was signed, founding father John Adams envisioned fireworks as a part of the festivities. In a letter to his wife, Abigail Adams, on July 3, 1776, he wrote that the occasion should be commemorated “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.” Happy Independence Day, United States! 🎆🇺🇸
Happy Independence Day, America, with the "Fireworks" tartan!
Designed by Carol A.L. Martin, this tartan suggests the bright bursts of fireworks against a dark sky.
Now associated with celebrations of all kinds, the earliest forms of fireworks can be traced to around 2,000 years ago in China. During the Han Dynasty in 200 B.C., people are said to have roasted bamboo stalks until they would turn black and sizzle, and the air inside the hollow stalks would explode. “Baozhu” is a Mandarin word for firecracker that translates directly to “exploding bamboo.”
Chinese history experts say that at some point between 600 A.D. and 900 A.D., Chinese alchemists took that idea to the next level by filling bamboo shoots with gunpowder made from saltpeter (potassium nitrate, sulfur, and carbon acquired from charcoal), and throwing them into a fire pit. Steel dust or cast-iron shavings were added to make them sparkle.
The first-ever recorded Fourth of July party was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 4, 1777, and like Adams had envisioned, included illuminations, bells, a parade, and explosions. After a 13-gun salute to honor each of the 13 colonies, the military band performed, bells were rung, and 13 firework rockets were set off in the town square.
By the time Independence Day celebrations became widely popular (after the War of 1812) fireworks were even more widely available. They would become an increasingly important part of the festivities in the years to come, as public safety concerns caused cannon and gunfire to be gradually phased out of celebrations.
In 1870, Congress established Independence Day as an official holiday. By 1898, a reporter would note that “the American Fourth of July is the greatest event the maker of firecrackers knows,
For more on the origin of historical fireworks celebrations on the Fourth of July in the United States, click the fireworks over Philadelphia picture!