Fireworks: The Softer Side Of Gunpowder

Even though my children are grown, I still enjoy the tradition of watching the fireworks every year on the 4th of July. The American Pyrotechnics Association estimates that more than 14,000 fireworks displays will light up our nation’s sky next week.

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One of my sons tells a story about flying in a window seat from Texas to the Midwest one July 4th night a few years ago and seeing fireworks all over the sky during the entire flight. He said his view was so entertaining that the two hour flight felt like it was over very quickly.

China produces and exports more fireworks than any other country in the world and it is also believed to be the country where fireworks originated. As early as 200 B.C. the Chinese would roast bamboo and when it got hot enough it would explode because of all of the air pockets. This was thought to ward off evil spirits and ghosts but evolved into a means of scaring off enemies as well.

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At some point between 600 and 900 A.D., the Chinese began mixing together potassium nitrate, (a common kitchen seasoning at the time) charcoal, sulfur and other ingredients into an early form of gunpowder. The Chinese would stuff bamboo shoots with the homemade gunpowder and then throw them into the fire to produce a loud bang. These were the first fireworks and were used to celebrate special events.

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Next Tuesday, we will mark 241 years since the Second Continental Congress approved the final version of our Declaration of Independence from English rule on July 4th, 1776. The first Independence Day celebration was held the next year in Philadelphia on July 4, 1777 with fireworks to raise the spirit of our new nation since the Revolutionary War was still going on.

That first American fireworks display was crude by today’s elaborate standards, but it got the job done. There were some rockets shot into the sky, but most of the first fireworks displays were of patriotic images arranged and lit up on raised platforms for the crowds to see.

Many of us will gather to watch dazzling fireworks displays on the 4th of July but have you ever wondered what causes all of those explosions of color? The kaleidoscope of colors is actually created by different metal elements.

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Remember your periodic table of elements from high school chemistry? When an element burns and its electrons get excited, energy is released in the form of light. Here are some firework colors and the element or combination of elements that help to create them:

Reds – Strontium and Lithium compounds

Blues – Copper

White or Silver – Titanium and Magnesium

Orange – Calcium

Yellow – Sodium

Green – Barium

According to the website, 63% of Americans will attend a fireworks display next week. Will you be one of them?

For those of you living in North Texas, Kaboom Town on Monday, July 3rd in Addison, Texas is the largest fireworks show in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and has been recognized by the American Pyrotechnics Association as one of the top ten fireworks displays in the United States.



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