Fireworks are always a spectacular thing to see. When welcoming the New Year or celebrating a special day, people would turn on fireworks. Apparently, the fireworks have been around for centuries. It was first invented by the Chinese who unintentionally invented firecrackers by throwing bamboo sticks to fire which make the crackling sound like the sound of fireworks that we know today. About a thousand years later, the firework that we all know today was actually made.
The story starts when an alchemist decided to mix together sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate with hopes of finding the secret of eternal life. However, the mixture was caught on fire and it became what we call today gunpowder. When this gunpowder is stuffed into a bamboo or paper tube and lit with fire, the world met its first ever firework. This accidentally-invented item is now widely used for aesthetic and entertainment all around the world. Today, we will get into some of the most spectacular information you need to know about fireworks.
1. Firework 1.0
The first ever firework does not look like the fireworks we all know today. Back in the days, you were not actually watching a fireworks show with your eyes, but only with your ears. They used to throw paper tube fireworks to the fire to turn on the fireworks. Thus, the least you can see is the fire sparks and only the full on small and noisy explosions. There is definitely still a long development going on on the firework before it takes its most recent form.
2. First Purpose
We are now accustomed to light up fireworks during happy occasions like New Year’s Eve, Independence day, etc. Have you ever wondered what is the idea behind this? Since fireworks are created accidentally, we can say that it is not intended for entertainment and celebration from the beginning.
Based on the history, we find out that fireworks were lit up to keep evil away, especially during fun and happy celebrations. The loud noise from the fireworks was believed to scare away evil. Thus, this is where the firework tradition during celebration comes from.
3. Firemasters and Green Men
When the gunpowder and the idea of fireworks reached England, its popularity started to grow rapidly. By 1500, England had developed its own firework technology and people started to light up fireworks for entertainment to make a living. These fireworks experts are called Firemasters. These firemasters work together with their most loyal assistants who are called Green Men.
Everytime they put on a firework show, they cover themselves with green leaf caps and costumes. They were the one who were responsible for lighting up the fireworks and keeping the audience at a safe distance by telling them jokes. The Green Men were considered to have one of the most dangerous jobs at that time. The probability of them getting injured or even killed is super high since the firework might fail to rise and go off at unexpected timing which makes it super dangerous.
4. The Science Behind Firework
Have you ever wondered how fireworks actually work? Where do those crackling sounds come from? And why do each of them have different shapes and colors? It is all thanks to chemistry. When you light the fuse, it will start heat transfer to take place to the main part of the firework which is called a shell. The shell holds the black powder, the developed type of gunpowder, which then will react to the heat resulting in energy that is enough to launch the shell.
The shell along with the palettes inside it will then reach a certain height where the second fuse or timed fuse will be ignited. This is the time when you can see the beautiful fireworks. The type, size, and amount of these palettes or what we call stars will determine the appearance and sound of the firework. In chemistry, this chemical reaction is what we call an exothermic redox reaction which involves an oxidizer, a substance that is rich in oxygen such as nitrates, chlorates, and perchlorates. All you need is a little fire and all this explosive chemical reaction would take place.
5. Anatomy Of Firework
The firework we know today is very different from the simple bamboo or paper tube firework. We are going to dig into its anatomy today. We can simplify its part into 5 different parts: stick or “tail”, fuse, charge or “motor”, effect, and head. Different types of fireworks are built differently and some could be much more complicated. However, we will discuss the general anatomy for aerial fireworks or fireworks that fly to the sky. We will start from the bottom with the stick or “tail”.
It is a long wooden or plastic stick that is responsible for the flight direction of the firework. The fuse is the part where the ignition to start the firework takes place. These days, there is an electrical fuse which allows us to light up the fireworks from a distance for extra safety. The charge or “motor” is responsible for blasting the fireworks up to the sky, but not the beautiful explosion that we can see.
The beautiful explosion is taken care of by the effect. It contains what we call “stars” in between “breaks”. These stars are made with a certain chemical mixture which will result in a specific appearance and sound of the firework. Lastly, the head which is at the most top, also called the nose cone, is there for aerodynamic reasons. It is responsible for the effect of actually going up to the sky and exploding correctly. This specific anatomy was developed in Italy and is used widely all around the world.
6. Types Of Fireworks
Today, there are at least 19 different types of fireworks. People light up fireworks on many occasions. They even light up fireworks every night in the Las Vegas Strip. In a firework show that we see today, we can see tons of different colors, shapes, and sounds of the fireworks. With so many types of fireworks available in the market today, you can create a spectacular scene of firework shows that are much safer compared to the old British fireshow days.
Some of the most famous ones are: missiles, rockets, sparklers, peony, comet, and many more. Each one of them has its own distinct shapes. For example, the peony is the beautifully shaped fireworks that look like sparkles that you see in Disneyland fireworks. You can also find the comet in Disneyland’s fireworks, but it is the one that is shaped like several rockets launching from the ground at once and leaving a glittery trail behind.
7. Firework Is A Weapon?
In many ways, fireworks are similar to weapons. Even some types of fireworks are named after them such as missiles. In the beginning, the invention of fireworks was never intentional. The Chinese alchemists were trying to create a secret potion for immortality or long life and ended up creating a recipe for gunpowder instead. The Chinese have been using gunpowder for weapons since 1046. The accidental find of fireworks led to further development of pyrotechnic weapons.
The gunpowder or ‘fire drug” (huo yao) has played an integral part in Chinese culture both for entertainment and weaponry. Thus, fireworks can definitely be used as weapons. Today, there have been cases where people use fireworks irresponsibly to attack or prank others. Since this can lead to dangerous situations, there are laws that regulate the use of fireworks to keep everyone safe.
8. Production Of Firework
Despite the Italians being able to develop a more advanced anatomy of the fireworks. China still produces 90% of the world’s fireworks. It is the spectacular $325 million worth of fireworks we are talking about. On the other hand, America is the biggest consumer of fireworks in the world. Mainly for the 4th of July celebration, fireworks trade is a big money trade and politics play a heavily important role for it. China supplies 94% of the US demand for fireworks.
The story has not always been this way. The Italian immigrants used to make all the fireworks for the US market. However, creating fireworks requires intensive labor. With demand continuing to rise and less people are interested in making it, importing them from China is the only way to go. This is when China started to dominate the firework market in the US and the rest of the world.
9. The Happiest Place On Earth
If you hear this phrase “the happiest place on earth”, you will directly think about Disneyland. Everytime you pay a visit to Disneyland, you will end your visit by watching the fireworks at night. With the park opening everyday long year round, it makes Disney the second largest consumer of fireworks. It spends around $50 million worth of fireworks. This is why some people say fireworks are like burning money. Disneyland has lived up to these words very seriously since 1957.
10. Hardest Firework To Make
There are many different types of fireworks available in the market today. Each one of them has its own science and material to make. Apparently, the blue firework is the hardest one to make. Have you ever seen a blue firework before? If you ever get to see one, you should know how complicated it is to make that several short seconds of blue firework explosion to happen.
The reason it is hard to make is because the blue color is the result of a fragile copper compounding gas. You need the perfect temperature for the correct blue color to show up. If the temperature is too high, the blue color will not be there. If the temperature is too low, you don’t get any type of intensity to it. This is why it is hard to achieve that blue color. Also, compared to other colors like red, orange, and white, the blue is still not as vibrant. Thus, there is still room for improvement.
11. Devastating Firework Explosion
With that being said, we will cover one of the worst firework accidents in history: Enschede Firework Disaster. This happened in the city Enschede, Netherlands on May 13, 2020. It all started with a fire from the firework storage located at Roombeek. Following the fire, a huge explosion happened that destroyed most parts of the city. It is basically the explosion of 177 tonnes of fireworks which result in complete destruction of the surrounding residential area.
There were 23 people who died due to this accident, 974 people were badly injured, 50 houses were destroyed completely, and tens of them were severely damaged. The explosion also caused most people in town to have severe mental health disturbances such as severe PTSD, anxiety, depression, sleeping problems, etc.
12. Exciting Yet Dangerous
This one seems a little obvious, but sometimes it slips our mind so easily because we find fireworks everywhere easily today. Even with the improvement of technology, fireworks are still super dangerous. In 2021, there are around 11,500 people injured due to fireworks and needing to be hospitalized because of it. In the sampe year, there were 9 deaths caused by fireworks incidents.
Surprisingly, most of them are caused not by accidents during production or other official firework-related situations, but rather irresponsible personal lighting of fireworks. Due to this, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has been urging consumers to use fireworks safely especially during the 4th of July celebration period where most of these incidents took place.
13. Effect On Environment
Aside from being dangerous to human beings, fireworks are also dangerous to the environment. It is not the most eco-friendly form of entertainment that you can find out there. We can simply say that fireworks contribute largely to the increase of air pollution. Take an example on the 4th of July where you can see fireworks everywhere you go in the nation, there is a rise of 42% of air pollution on that day alone due to fireworks.
It also contributes so much carbon dioxide to the air in such a short amount of time which is equivalent to the amount of carbon dioxide in 12,000 cars in a year. Scientists have found more eco-friendly alternatives for fireworks. Their challenge now is to make sure the new alternative is as cheap and effective.
14. Poisonous Gas
The fireworks emit all sorts of chemicals that are actually toxic for both humans and animals. Studies find that inhaling gas from fireworks could affect the respiratory system by causing inflammation. Fireworks contain heavy metals and also a chemical called perchlorate. This specific chemical is known to cause problems for human beings: such as thyroid problems that could affect the production of hormones important for growth and development.
15. Firework Olympics
Despite how poisonous and dangerous a firework can be, people keep coming back to it. Why? Simple because they are beautiful. Even the Philippines held the World Pyro Day which is the biggest firework competition in the world. This is like the Olympic games for the firework makers. The participants will be top firework production companies. They are challenged to make the most spectacular and beautiful firework display that the world has ever seen. Big countries such as Australia, Italy, China, and several others participated in this game each year.
So, when was the last time you saw fireworks with your own two eyes?