As summer draws closer, more and more people start thinking about the outdoor barbecues they want to attend and the big parties they want to throw in the great outdoors or at home.
If you’re planning to hold a memorable event during the warmer months of the year, you might be considering bringing fireworks into the mix. Before you save up and splurge on bulk fireworks to set your soiree off with a bang, here are some fun facts worth knowing about these fizzling products.
Fireworks Have Been Around for Thousands of Years
While fireworks seem like they must be pretty modern inventions, the Chinese unintentionally invented natural firecrackers around 200 BC. The creation happened when the Chinese put bamboo stalks, which they were drying out to write on, overheat for too long, or into the fire by accident.
The bamboo expanded and burst with a bang, providing a much more muted sound than the loud firecracker noise we associate with such products today. Back then, the Chinese are said to have liked that the noises scared off large mountain men. Some people believe it was also thought the noises scared away evil spirits. For a thousand years or so, firecrackers stayed at this level. However, in about 800 AD, an alchemist mixed charcoal, sulfur, and potassium nitrate in a bid to find eternal life. What happened was that the mixture caught on fire, and gunpowder produced in its wake.
From there, people started packing the powder into tubes made of paper or bamboo. They lit them on fire to create a series of small, noisy explosions. This is believed to be the earliest use of fireworks shows closer to what we enjoy today. However, back then, the productions did not get blasted into the air and didn’t have added colors.
The products became a part of Chinese cultural celebrations. But, before too long, military engineers began using the explosive concoctions for violent purposes. The Chinese developed crude gunpowder catapults that involved attaching traditional bamboo “sparklers” to arrows and launching these on enemies. Today, China still produces the most fireworks globally.
They Work Because of Chemical Reactions
As you can likely gather from the above information, fireworks happen thanks to chemical reactions. To make fireworks, manufacturers require three key components: a fuel source, which is typically a charcoal-based black power; an oxidizer, usually created from nitrates, chlorates, and other compounds that produce oxygen; and a chemical-based mixture that leads to the pretty colors we see. The oxidizer in fireworks breaks down the chemical bonds in the product’s fuel. In turn, this releases stored energy from the bonds. Fire that stems from a lit fuse or direct flame then ignites the chemical reaction.
We can thank the Italians for the innovation of colored fireworks. They discovered that different colors occurred when people added various elements, via metallic powders, to the firecracker mix. As the chemical reactions burned, the colors showed up. For example, barium gives us green fireworks, sodium creates yellow, and lithium and strontium burn red. These elements also lead to the different sounds we can hear from fireworks, such as whistling and crackling.
Fireworks Often Reference Flowers
Another fun fact is that fireworks have all sorts of interesting names, many of which revolve around plant power. For example, a “chrysanthemum” product has a shell that emits stars in a circle shape. The brightness of the firework grows as the circle enlarges. Put these products together, and you get what is known in the business as a “bouquet” – a fitting name.
If you see a firework overhead that flies outward and then descends, this is a “peony.” It is one of the most common options on the market and does not generate a tail effect or trail of sparks. You might also see a “palm,” which contains multiple large comet stars. When these burst into tendrils, it gives the appearance of palm tree shapes. Keep an eye out, too, for the “willow.” It leaves trails of gold or silver stars. As these stars cascade downward, you see what looks like the well-known weeping willow shape.
Disney Buys Enormous Amounts of Fireworks
It’s reported that Walt Disney World is the second-largest purchaser of explosive devices in the country, with the U.S. Department of Defence being the biggest. If you have been to the Disney parks at any stage, you will know that they typically (before the global pandemic hit, anyway) created amazing nightly firework displays. They also put on other pyrotechnic shows around the park.
Fireworks have more history and intrigue than most people think. There’s also fascinating science behind their manufacture. Consider the above details next time you light up or watch a firework display in your area.