Pyrotechnics: The History and Art of Firework Making

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In medieval England, fireworks experts were known as firemasters.

Pyrotechnics - International Society of Explosives Engineers

It was a dangerous profession at the time, with many green men dying or suffering injuries when detonations went awry. By the time of the Renaissance, pyrotechnic schools were training fireworks artists across Europe, particularly in Italy, which became famous for its elaborate and colorful displays.

It was the Italians who in the s became the first to incorporate trace amounts of metals and other additives, creating the bright, multihued sparks and sunbursts seen in contemporary fireworks shows. Earlier displays only featured booming sounds, orange flashes and faint golden traces of light. Fireworks gained an especially strong following among European rulers, who used them to enchant their subjects and illuminate their castles on important occasions.

French kings regularly put on spectacular displays at Versailles and other palaces, while Czar Peter the Great of Russia arranged a five-hour pyrotechnic extravaganza to mark the birth of his son. Europeans brought their knowledge and appreciation of fireworks to the New World.

History of Fireworks

According to legend, Captain John Smith set off the first display in Jamestown in On July 3, , the day before the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife in which he presaged the role of fireworks in Fourth of July celebrations. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade…bonfires and illuminations [a term for fireworks]…from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.

In the s, rampant detonation of fireworks, particularly by unskilled ruffians, drove concerned citizens to form the Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise, which lobbied for restrictions. Today, most states regulate how and where fireworks may be used, as well as the types of explosives consumers may buy. These laws notwithstanding, nearly 9, Americans were hurt by fireworks in , according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, with a disproportionate number of injuries occurring in July.


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Experts recommend precautions such as only detonating fireworks outside, obeying local ordinances, keeping water handy in case of a fire, preventing children from handling explosives and, most of all, using common sense. Visit the website of the National Council on Fireworks Safety for more tips. Where can you catch a glimpse of the flashiest displays this Fourth of July?

But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! The selected illustrations paired with the author's knowledge provides a fascinating insight about the development of the magnificent displays we still enjoy today. This book has an early 20th century publisher's binding with a decorative cover depicting various pyrotechnic devices.

The boards and spine are detached. Conservators will repair the cover, clean, and reline the spine and re-case the textblock in the repaired case.

Heat Waves Throughout History

A custom enclosure will be created to house this volume. Discover more about this book in our Catalog.

How fireworks work

Adoption Type: Preserve for the Future. Skip to main content. Brock Adopted for Conservation by.

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