Fireworks on the Fourth

On July 4 many Americans will celebrate their Independence Day with picnics, games, parades, and fireworks. That's how John Adams wanted it.

John Adams, who followed George Washington as President of the United States, wrote that Independence Day "ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward, forevermore."

Ever since then Americans have celebrated July 4 with fireworks.

All over the world fireworks are a favorite way of celebrating. The French remember their National Day, July 14, with fireworks.

A fireworks display was staged on the Thames River in London more than 350 years ago to mark the marriage of Elizabeth, the daughter of King James I in 1613. The dazzling display of fireworks showed St. George on horseback conquering a fiery dragon. Countries also used fireworks after wars were over.

It is probable that the Chinese first invented fireworks, and that traveling Arabs and Greeks brought them from China to Europe.

Historians know that fireworks were used in AD 614 -- more than 1,300 years ago -- in Byzantium. This ancient city was later known as Constantinople and is now called Istanbul, the capital of Turkey.

In modern times the Italians have been the best fireworksmakes, or "pyrotechnic" experts. Pyrotechnics is the technical name for fireworks.

The first method of producing sparks was to add small lumps of charcoal to a mixture of saltpeter (also known as potassium nitrate) and sulfur to form gunpowder. Later other substances have been added to get better effects.

Certain salts are added to get special colors: strontium salts for red, calcium for orange, barium for green, copper for blue, and sodium for yellow.

Today large fireworks displays can be seen in the United States only at big public gatherings where they are carefully supervised. This is because fireworks can be so dangerous.

Many states have banned fireworks for private use. If you live in a state where they are legal, use them only with your parents or other adults present.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.