History Of Fireworks: Who Invented Fireworks, And Why Do We Celebrate With Them?

By | December 27, 2020

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(Mughal Style/Wikimedia Commons)

Today, anyone can pick up inexpensive fireworks from a roadside stand, but long before they were an easily accessible celebratory accessory, people used fireworks to ward off evil spirits. Today, fireworks are a billion-dollar business, but getting to that point took thousands of years.

Chinese Fireworks

Beginning around 200 B.C.E., the people of Ancient China threw stalks of bamboo into fire pits to frighten evil spirits, but they must have found it ineffective. After about 400 years, they added rudimentary gun powder to the mix to create a bigger bang, which worked so well that the combination of bamboo shoots, charcoal, sulfur, and potassium was later refined into a kind of missile.

Chinese fireworks fanatics continued to refine their technique by adding steel dust and cast iron shavings, which gave the explosions a shimmery look that more closely resembled the fireworks we know today, and before long, the ghosts were forgotten while people were distracted by the pretty lights. These early fireworks became the norm at New Year's celebrations and weddings. 

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(Unknown source/Wikimedia Commons)

Fireworks In Europe

It wasn't until routes of trade opened between the East and Europe that countries like Great Britain and Italy were exposed to fireworks. When gunpowder made its way west in the Middle Ages, Europeans began experimenting with different mixtures to form varying degrees of explosive devices.

While Europeans developed missiles and rockets and added power to muskets and cannons, they also used fireworks similar to those cobbled together with bamboo and gunpowder to create elaborate celebrations, albeit without the fanciful color schemes that we have today. Run by "firemasters," firework ceremonies were held after major religious events, royal celebrations, or a military win.

Helped by assistants known as "green men" for the green caps that they wore, the firemasters set off elaborate displays of explosions as the locals watched on. Many of these displays ended in tragedy, as they were not yet prepared for the dangerous effects of their experiments.