54 Explosive Facts about Fireworks

By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published August 20, 2016
  • The craft of making and setting of fireworks is called pyrotechnics, from the Greek pyro, “fire,”+ techne, “art.”[12]
  • Consumers spend about $662 million on fireworks each year.[7]
  • Sparklers are deceivingly benign. They can actually burn as hot as 2,000° F.[2]
  • Boston’s annual 4th of July fireworks includes 5,000 pounds of explosive material, which is about the same amount of energy a person’s heart will expend during an entire lifetime.[7]
  • There are about 14,000 firework shows in the United States on July 4th
  • During the 4th of July, Americans light about 175 million pounds of fireworks, which is equivalent to about 100,000 lightening bolts.[7]
  • The largest firework show in the United States is the Macy’s “Lights Up the Night” show in New York over the Hudson River on July 4th. The show includes over 40,000 shells, and more than 3 million people watch the spectacle.[13]
  • The Boston firework display for July 4th is one of the most expensive shows at a record $2.5 million. The 20-minute show is accompanied by music from the Boston Pops.[13]
  • The earliest recorded use of fireworks dates back to 200 B.C. in China during the Han Dynasty. People would roast bamboo stalks until the air inside would sizzle and explode. The resulting loud “pop” was believed to frighten evil spirits and usher in happiness and luck.[15]
  • In Japan, a signature summer tradition is the many firework festivals (hanabi taikai) that take place nearly every weekend, culminating in over 800 shows in August. While traditionally used to ward of evil spirits, fireworks in Japan are rarely used to celebrate the New Year.[5]
  • Early fireworks in the form of empty bamboo stalks were invented in China in 200 B.C. However, when the Chinese later invented gunpowder sometime between A.D. 600-900, fireworks became even louder and flashier.[15]
  • The Chinese invented fireworks and incorporated them into their most important festivals, such as the Chinese New Year (spring festival) and the mid-autumn festival.[15]
  • On July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote his wife, Abigail, that he thought fireworks should be used to celebrate America’s independence from England. Americans have been celebrating their independence with fireworks ever since.[10]
  • In 2012, 8,700 people in the U.S. were injured by fireworks. In 2013, that number increased to 11,300. Most (at least 65%) of the injuries happened the 30 days near July 4th.[2]
  • Males account for 57% of private firework injuries in the U.S. Females are injured more often at public firework displays.[2]
  • Nearly 45% of firework injuries are to children under the age of 14
  • In the U.S., sparklers account for 41% of the emergency room firework injuries. Additionally, sparklers account for 79% of injuries to children under 5 years old.[2]
  • The invention of fireworks led to the invention of gunpowder weaponry, rather than the other way around. During medieval warfare in China, sometimes fireworks were strapped to rats, which would run into enemy territories. The Chinese would also strap fireworks to arrows to terrify their enemies.[15]
  • While China invented the firework itself, Italy invented the aerial shell in the 1830s. The shape of the inner part of the aerial shell is what gives the firework its overall shape. Italians also discovered that burning different metallic powders created different colors.[15]
  • New Castle, Pennsylvania, is known as the “Fireworks Capital of the America” because one of the largest fireworks companies, Zambelli Fireworks, is located there.[12]
  • The largest manufacturer and exporter of fireworks in the world today is China.[6]
  • Fireworks require just three main components: 1) an oxidizer, 2) a fuel, and 3) a chemical mixture to create the color. When exposed to fire, the oxidizer breaks the chemical bonds in the fuel, which releases the energy stored in the bonds.[12]
  • The colors in fireworks are a result of burning different metal elements. When different elements burn, they produce different colors. For example, barium burns green, sodium burns yellow, and lithium and strontium burn red.[4]
  • Contrary to popular belief, Marco Polo was not the first to bring gunpowder from China to Europe when he returned from China in 1295. Gunpowder probably spread via the Arabs earlier through the Silk Road, despite China’s best efforts to keep gunpowder a secret.[15]
  • Pyrotechnicians can create specific firework sounds. For example, aluminum or iron flakes can create hissing or sizzling sounds and titanium powder can create loud blasts.[15]
  • Blue is by far the hardest fireworks color for pyrotechnicians to make. Even after thousands of years, no one has found the perfect chemistry to make bright blue. In contrast, red, green, orange, and white are very easy to produce.[4]
  • Pyrotechnicians are trying to make fireworks that display words
  • Current pyrotechnicians are trying to figure out how to make fireworks spell words in the sky.[3]
  • At the beginning of the 20th century, the Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise campaigned against the use of fireworks. They helped create the first fireworks laws in the U.S.[15]
  • The earliest known fireworks display in England occurred in 1486 for the wedding of Henry VII. His son, Henry VIII also set off fireworks to celebrate his marriage to Anne Boleyn.[12]
  • The daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn was Queen Elizabeth I. She loved fireworks so much that she created a special court position for the person who created the most beautiful fireworks show.[12]
  • In 1685, King James II was so impressed with the person who created the fireworks display at his crowning that he made him a knight.[12]
  • According to legend, the first fireworks in America were set off by Captain John Smith in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1608 to impress or scare nearby Native Americans.[12]
  • Italians are famous for turning fireworks into an art form. In fact, many of the leading American companies that have large firework displays are owned by families of Italian descent, such as the Gruccis, Rozzis, and Zambellis.[15]
  • While gunpowder has been a traditional part of fireworks, Disneyland uses compressed air, rather than gunpowder, to launch its fireworks.[12]
  • While fireworks were invented in China around 200 B.C., it took until about the 15th century before they became part of European celebrations. In England, “fire masters” would light fireworks at parties with the help of their assistants or “green men.” Green men would wear hats of green leaves to put out any sparks while entertaining the crowd.[15]
  • Guy Fawkes Night is also known as “Firework Night.” Celebrated every year on November 5, “Firework Night” commemorates when an assignation plot against King James I (“The Gunpowder Plot”) was thwarted on that date in 1605.[6]
  • An illegal firework that was designed to simulate the sound of gunfire is called the M-80, or the “military rifle fire simulator.” Also sometimes called “salutes,” M-80s have caused people to lose fingers and even hands.[3]
  • Four states have a blanket ban on all public access to fireworks: Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York.[1]
  • Five states allow only sparklers and/or novelty fireworks: Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, and Vermont. Arizona allows only novelty fireworks.[1]
  • Nearly 40% of fires on July 4th are caused by fireworks
  • On a typical July 4th, approximately two out of five reported fires are caused by fireworks.[14]
  • The risk of injury from fireworks is highest for the 0–4 age group, followed by children 10–14 years old.[14]
  • The body part most commonly injured by fireworks are the hand or finger (36%); head, face, or ear (22%); eye (16%); leg (14%); trunk/other (7%); and arm (5%).[2]
  • The Alliance to Stop Consumer Fireworks is a group of health and safety organizations that urge the U.S. public to watch firework displays by professionals rather than buy or make private fireworks.[2]
  • On average, approximately 240 people in the U.S. go to the ER every day with firework-related injuries in the month around July 4th.[14]
  • Illegal and homemade fireworks were involved in all 8 firework-related deaths in the U.S. in 2013.[7]
  • There are about 14,000 firework shows in the United States on July 4th.[10]
  • The Philippines is home to the World Pyro Olympics, a yearly fireworks competition. Competitors from around the world gather to determine who can create the best fireworks display.[12]
  • The largest display of fireworks on record happened in Norway on November 29, 2014, when 540,383 fireworks were lit. The spectacle lasted for 1.5 hours. It was a tribute to the Norwegian constitution.[11]
  • In 2012, the “Big Baby Boom” San Diego fireworks show experienced an unknown glitch that caused all the fireworks to explode at once. Thousands of spectators who were expecting a 20-minute show were treated to a 30-second grand explosion instead.[9]
  • Pyrotechnicians call a firework that misfires and explodes within the launch tube a “flowerpot” because the misfire resembles a flowerpot.[3]
  • Creators of firework shells are required to wear cotton clothing
  • People who make firework shells are required to wear cotton clothing—even cotton underwear—because synthetic clothing can create sparks from static that could detonate fireworks.[3]
  • After a fireworks show celebrating the marriage of King Louis XVI to Marie Antoinette on May 16, 1770, a stampede occurred, killing over 800 people.[3]
  • Thirty years ago in the U.S., a typical firework display lasted an hour. Modern shows rarely last more than 20 minutes.[3]
  • Walt Disney World buys more fireworks than any other company in the world.[6]
  • The Washington D.C. July 4th firework show draws over 500,000 spectators as well as a national PBS viewing audience. Because the large show discharges over 33 tons of fireworks, several agencies monitor it, including the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Federal Aviation Administration; Secret Service; D.C. fire and police departments; National Parks and Services and its police department; and PBS.[13]
  • Residents of Beijing are increasingly being asked to limit their use of fireworks during the Lantern Festival (Lunar New Year) because of record air pollution.[8]
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References

1 Chokshi, Niraj. “Map: Fireworks Laws in Every State.” The Washington Post. July 3, 2014. Accessed: June 10, 2015.

2CPSC Science: Fireworks Injuries 2014 Update.” CPSC. June 26, 2014. Accessed: June 24, 2015.

3Did You Know? 20 Curious Facts about Fireworks.” Nova. Updated January 2002. Accessed: June 15, 2015.

4Exploding the Mystery of Blue Fireworks.” NPR. July 4, 2013. Accessed: June 25, 2015.

5Fireworks (Hanabi).” Japan-Guide. Updated June 10, 2015. Accessed: June 25, 2015.

6 Hartston, William. “Top 10 Facts about Fireworks.” Express. Updated November 13, 2014. Accessed: June 20, 2015.

7 Horowitz, Evan. “How Many Fireworks Do We Use on Fourth of July?” Boston Globe. July 3, 2014. Accessed: June 25, 2015.

8 Jing, Li. “Beijing Fears Pollution Effect of Lunar New Year Fireworks.” South China Morning Post. Updated February 18, 2015. Accessed: June 25, 2105.

9 Jovic, Dan. “Fireworks Malfunction Has 20-Minute Show Going Off in 30 Seconds.” Fox 8 Cleveland. Updated July 5, 2012. Accessed: June 25, 2015.

10 Korch, Travers. “The Explosive Costs of Big Firework Displays.” Fox Business. June 27, 2012. Accessed: June 25, 2015.

11Largest Firework Display.” Guinness World Records. 2015. Accessed: June 25, 2015.

12 Merrick, Patrick. Fourth of July Fireworks. North Mankato, MN: The Child’s World, Inc, 2000.

13 O’Connor, Liz. “Here’s Where to Find the Biggest and Best July 4th Fireworks Shows.” Business Insider. July 3, 2013. Accessed: June 24, 2015.

14Reports and Statistics about Fireworks.” NFPA. 2015. Accessed: June 24, 2015.

15 Thompson, Helen. “14 Fun Facts about Fireworks.” Smithsonian. July 4, 2014. Accessed: June 224, 2015.

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