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The History

According to scholars, fireworks were discovered completely by accident in ancient China in the second century BC. Legend holds that while cooking, someone inadvertently dropped saltpeter (a form of salt still used in China today) into a cooking fire, which produced a colorful, curious flame. This "mistake" would later lead to the invention of the firecracker.

During the Middle Ages, the Chinese were first to observe that when gunpowder (a loose mixture of sulfur, saltpeter and charcoal) became wet, it was not necessarily useless. For years, moistened gunpowder had been disposed of and considered rotten. An unknown chemist began experimenting, and was soon to ascertain that by grinding gunpowder into a fine mixture, one could make a "cake" of firepowder. These "cakes" offered a new way to store volatile gunpowder. By adding components like a firework shell and a wick, the "cakes" of firepowder could also be used in an entirely new way.

Ancient belief holds that the loud explosions from the new creation (known as "gung pow") were perfect for frightening off evil spirits. The "gung pow" was also used in celebrations in China during the 15th century, including weddings, family gatherings and the commemoration of battle victories.

The original skyrocket came to be during this period, as well. First made of a long wooden or bamboo stick, these fireworks were known as "flaming arrows" and were used at special occasions.

The first actual documentation relating to fireworks comes out of 1040 AD, where the Chinese showed how to wrap gunpowder in paper, add a few chemicals and make a "Fire Pill." The documentation is long and contains several recipes of fireworks that are similar to ingredients and packing methods still in existence today.

The Roman's were no stranger to the power of fireworks, either. In 670 AD, Roman soldiers would mix sulfur, saltpeter and other chemicals to make a slow burning, highly flammable liquid, which they would then dump on the enemy. Many years later, they would develop small gunpowder charges that could be physically thrown, capable of achieving more distance than the liquid form of fire. Guns, of course, would come out of the invention, along with the introduction of firepowder.

By the early 1300's, almost every country had their own version of what fireworks were meant to be. The Germans used fireworks in battle. The Chinese continued to light fireworks in honor of celebration, as did the British.

It was during the first part of the 1500's when the military first introduced fireworks to the United States, lighting them as entertainment at major events. The response was so outstanding, jobs would be created around making fireworks recipes and factories would open everywhere, each offering a new and different form of the original.

Today, fireworks making is an art. Most fireworks are made in a factory, but almost all are packed by hand. Overall, the making of fireworks remains a simple process: you place the compound in a shell, wrap it and add a fuse.

How Fireworks Work
What makes fireworks explode is simple pressure. Much like shaking a can of soda will cause the liquid to spew from the can when opened, fireworks operate on the same theory. Once the firework is lit, pressure builds and the fire burns through the wick and reaches the bottom of the firework, where the chemicals are stored. The black gun powder at the end of the firework explodes out (and sometimes upwards, depending on where it's packed) only because of a simple pressure buildup.

Fireworks Today
Fireworks have taken on many forms in the last few centuries. Today, you can purchase Roman Candles, Fountains, Rockets and more that all contain the same basic ingredients as the original "gung pow," first made in China. By altering the amount of saltpeter and sulfur each firework shell holds, companies can produce different shades of color and sizes of explosion.

In America, fireworks are used as a show of celebration, often combining choreographed music with precise launching times. Audiences around the world use fireworks in celebration, but the United States has become famous for its displays on July 4th, Independence Day.