A fireworks event (also called a fireworks display or fireworks show) is a spectacular display of the effects produced by firework devices on various occasions. Fireworks competitions are also regularly held at a number of places.
As early as the Chinese Han Dynasty (206 BC–AD 220) the world's first firecrackers (basic fireworks) were made by roasting bamboo to produce the loud sound (known as "bian pao") that was intended to frighten evil spirits. In the Northern and Southern Dynasties (AD 420–581) the firecrackers were used not only to dispel evil but also to pray for happiness and prosperity.
The discovery of gunpowder and the subsequent invention of true fireworks is also owed to the Chinese. Taoist monks played with the basic components of gunpowder to create fireworks in their spare time. Eventually, the art and science of firework making developed into an independent profession of its own. In ancient China, pyrotechnicians (firework-masters) were well-respected for their knowledge and skill to mount dazzling displays of light and sound. Some scholars say fireworks were developed in the Sui and Tang Dynasties (581–907), but others argue there were no fireworks until the Northern Song Dynasty (10th century).
Amédée-François Frézier published a "Treatise on Fireworks" in 1706. In this treatise, Frézier studied the recreational and ceremonial uses of fireworks, rather than their military uses. The book became a standard text for fireworks makers.
America's earliest settlers brought their enthusiasm for fireworks to the United States. Fireworks and black powder were used to celebrate important events long before the American Revolutionary War. The very first celebrations of Independence Day were in 1777, six years before Americans knew whether the new nation would survive the war; fireworks were a part of those festivities. In 1789, George Washington's inauguration was also accompanied by a fireworks display. This early fascination with their noise and color continues today.
The largest manufacturer and exporter of fireworks in the world is China. China is estimated to have exported over 6 million cases or 120,000 tonnes of fireworks to the US in 2005.
In 2004, Disneyland in Anaheim, California, started using aerial fireworks launched with compressed air rather than gunpowder, the first time that such a launch system was used commercially. The display shell is detonated in the air using an electronic timer. The advantages of compressed air launch are a reduction in fumes, and much greater accuracy in height and timing. (Walt Disney Company, 2004)
L’International des Feux Loto-Québec in MontrealEdit
Macau International Fireworks Display ContestEdit
Held over 5 weeks during September with 2 displays on the same night weekly, with the final night held on China National Day on 1st October. The competition features 10 pyrotechnic companies from around the world. 
HSBC Celebration of Light in VancouverEdit
The HSBC Celebration of Light is an annual musical fireworks competition held every summer over English Bay in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Four companies representing their country perform a twenty-five minute firework display set to music with a grand finale on the last day where all four competitors perform.
Bonfire night in BritainEdit
In 1605 Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators attempted to blow up the Parliament of the United Kingdom with 36 barrels of gunpowder in the cellars of Westminster Hall. On 5 November, Fawkes was arrested and Parliament was saved. That night is now celebrated as bonfire night by filling the sky with exploding fireworks, and by burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes on a bonfire.
- Remember, remember the fifth of November.
- Gunpowder, treason, and plot.
- I see no reason why gunpowder treason
- Should ever be forgot.
- – a children's rhyme about the events, still spoken today
The town of Lewes is famous for its annual Guy Fawkes Night celebrations. Local groups, 'bonfire societies' conduct torch-lit marches around the town, vying with each other for the best fancy-dress outfits and topical celebrity figures that are later burnt. Examples of recent figures are: the Pope, Margaret Thatcher, George Bush and Osama bin Laden.
Licensing for firework introduced in the United Kingdom. Fireworks cannot be sold to people under the age of 18 and setting them off between 11pm and 7am is only allowed at specific times of the year, including New Year and bonfire night.
U.S. Independence DayEdit
Each year before the American Independence Day, the Fourth of July, retailers across the nation experience a surge in fireworks sales. The Fourth of July, is a federal holiday celebrating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.
Independence Day is commonly associated with parades, barbecues, picnics, baseball games, and various other public and private events celebrating the history and traditions of the U.S. Fireworks have been associated with the Fourth of July since 1777.
In many states, smaller fireworks are sold for personal use or as an alternative to a public show. Concerns about safety have led some states to ban fireworks or limit the sizes and types allowed, but illicit traffic brings some of the more powerful firecrackers in from less restrictive border states.
Some of the most famous fireworks displays include Macy's - 4th of July Fireworks in New York. There are also many other spectacular displays in St. Louis, Washington D.C., Boston, Philadelphia.
New Year's EveEdit
Major cities around the world host spectacular firework display on New Year's Eve. Although it is now just a custom to fire off fireworks on New-Year's eve, in the past the idea was to scare 'bad forces' so they would not enter the new year. As a consequence the most popular fireworks are still those that go off with a big bang or with a bright flash.
In Western Europe the use of fireworks by the general public is usually restricted to a few hours after midnight on New Year's Eve.
The retail of fireworks in Western Europe is also restricted, but the limitations differ from country to country. In the Netherlands for example the sale of fireworks is restricted to a few days before New Year's Eve, but in Belgium the sale of fireworks is legal throughout the year. Also the fireworks sold in Belgium contain more gunpowder than is allowed in the Netherlands. This leads to some illegal trafficking of fireworks from Belgium to the Netherlands.
Deepavali ('Festival of Lights') in IndiaEdit
Deepavali (or Diwali) is the most popular festival of India, which broadly celebrates the triumph of good over evil primarily symbolized in the mythological epic of Ramayana in which the Hindu God Rama defeats his demonic adversary Ravana. Customary traditions include offering prayers to the Gods in the morning and exchanging sweets with friends and neighbors. During the night the houses are adorned with small lit oil lamps and colorful lights and then the entire family participates in the display of fireworks.
Unlike Western nations, retail of fireworks is largely unrestricted in India. People have access to a variety of fireworks and most of them in urban areas set it off on the public roads running in front of their houses. In smaller towns, the large temples of the town typically have public fireworks displays. Deepavali brings the spirit of goodwill and brotherhood and is celebrated across all religions in India.
Lunar New Year in Hong KongEdit
Fireworks are displayed annually on the second day of the first moon in the Chinese calendar since 1982 in the Victoria Harbour. It has become part of the culture and tradition for the Hong Kong Chinese to go to the promenades along the two sides of the harbour to see the fireworks, or to watch the broadcast on television.
In Malta, local patron saints' holidays are usually celebrated with spectacular fireworks and bombs called petards or murtali in Maltese. Petardry is a popular hobby and a traditional skill in Malta, and Maltese fireworks are usually homemade. Manufacture is often high-risk, but the final results are extravagant. In the opinion of many fireworks artists, Malta is one of the best places in the world for the manufacture of fireworks. The 'Malta International Fireworks Festival', held annually at the end of April in the Valletta Grand Harbour, is a fireworks competition open to all pyrotechnic manufacturers of the world. In 2003 the event began as just a festival to showcase Maltese talent, but in 2006 the committee decided to retool it into a competition open to manufacturers worldwide. The first of these was contended by 2 foreign groups and 3 Maltese groups, and the title was won by Saint Mary Fireworks of Imqabba. The great extent of Maltese talent, however, is most evident during summer, during which many cities and villages celebrate the feasts of their patron saints and local artists produce their best fireworks. The Maltese take pride in their renown as one of the foremost in the pyrotechnic industry.
Popular types of fireworks are listed below. There are two general categories of fireworks commonly sold in the United States today, and are listed below.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) as well as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have general jurisdiction over what types of fireworks may be legally sold in the United States. The federal law is only the minimum standard however, and each state is free to enact laws that are more stringent if they so choose. Citing concerns over fireworks safety, some states, such as California, have enacted legislation restricting fireworks usage to devices that do not leave the ground, such as fountains, while states such as New York and Delaware ban all consumer fireworks completely. On the other hand, states such as South Carolina allow most or all legal consumer fireworks to be sold and used throughout the year.
Differences in legislation among states have led many fireworks dealers to set up shop along state borders in order to attract customers from neighboring states where fireworks are restricted. Some Native American tribes on reservation lands show similar behavior, often selling fireworks that are not legal for sale outside of the reservation.
The type of fireworks sold in the United States vary widely, from fireworks which are legal under federal law, all the way to illegal explosive devices/professional fireworks that are sold on the black market. Both the illicit manufacture and diversion of illegal explosives to the consumer market have become a growing problem in recent years. The types fireworks sold at retail stands and stores include, but are not limited to:
Consumer Fireworks (1.4G, UN0336)Edit
- reloadable aerial shells 1-3/4" or less sold in a box with not more than 12 shells and one launching tube
- single-shot aerial tubes
- bottle rockets
- skyrockets and missiles
- ground spinners, pinwheels and helicopters
- flares & fountains
- roman candles
- smoke and novelty items
- multi-shot aerial devices, or "cakes"
- Firecracker packs (see this link for various brand/label images)
Display Fireworks (1.3G, UN0335) Edit
The following devices are for professional use and only available with a BATFE license/permit:
- any ground salute device with over 50 milligrams of explosive composition
- torpedoes (except for railroad signaling use)
- multi-tube devices containing over 500 grams of pyrotechnic composition and without 1/2" space between each tube
- any multiple tube fountains with over 500 grams of pyrotechnic composition and without 1/2" space between each tube
- any reloadable aerial shells over 1.75" diameter
- display shells
- any single-shot or reloadable aerial shell/mine/comet/tube with over 60 grams of pyrotechnic composition
- any Roman candle or rocket with over 20 grams of pyrotechnic composition
- any aerial salute with over 130 milligrams of explosive composition
Legality Note: Current federal law states that (without appropriate BATFE license/permit) the possession or sale of any display/professional fireworks is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Although some large firecraker items may be called "M-80's", "M-1000's", "Cherry bombs" or "Silver Salutes" by the manufacturer, they must contain less than 50-milligrams of flash or other explosive powder in order to be legally sold to consumers in the United States.
Laws and politicsEdit
Safety of consumer fireworksEdit
Template:Cleanup-date Availability and use of consumer fireworks are hotly debated topics. Critics and safety advocates point to the numerous injuries and accidental fires that are attributed to fireworks as justification for banning or at least severely restricting access to fireworks. Complaints about excessive noise created by fireworks and the large amounts of debris and fallout left over after shooting are also used to support this position. There are numerous incidents of consumer fireworks being used in a manner that is supposedly disrespectful of the communities and neighborhoods where the users live.
Meanwhile, those who support more liberal firework laws look at the same statistics as the critics and conclude that, when used properly, consumer fireworks are a safer form of recreation than riding bicycles or playing soccerTemplate:Citation-needed. A careful reading of the literature reveals that nearly all fatalities from consumer fireworks are due to the users not following the directions printed on the labelTemplate:Citation-needed. Safety advocates urge people to "Leave it to the professionals": in the US, you are more likely to be injured driving in your car to or from a professional fireworks show than you are to be injured by using consumer fireworks in your backyardTemplate:Citation-needed.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission has established strict guidelines regarding the construction and composition of consumer fireworks. Together with US Customs and BATFE, they are very proactive in enforcing these rules, intercepting imported fireworks that don't comply and issuing recalls on unacceptable consumer fireworks that are found to have "slipped through". Many states in the United States have laws on further restrict access to and use of consumer fireworks, and some of these states vigorously enforce them. Each year, there are many raids on individuals suspected of having "illegal" fireworks.
Safety of commercial fireworksEdit
Fireworks safety is considered to be extremely important in countries such as Canada. The use, storage and sale of commercial-grade fireworks in Canada is licensed by Natural Resources Canada's Explosive Regulatory Division (ERD). Unlike their consumer counterpart, commercial-grade fireworks function differently, and come in a wide range of sizes from 2 inches up to 12 or more inches in diameter. As well, since commercial-grade fireworks are a shell which is loaded into separate a mortar by hand, great care must be taken, during all stages of setup.
Setup of these fireworks involves the placement and securing of mortars on wooden or wire racks; loading of the shells; and if electronically firing, wiring and testing. The mortars are generally made of FRE (Fiber-Reinforced Epoxy) or HDPE (High-Density Polyethelene), some older mortars are made of Sheet Steel, but have been banned by most countries due to the problem of shrapnel produced during a misfire. Setup of mortars in Canada require that a minimum angle of 10 to 15 degrees down-range with a safety distance of at least 200 meters down-range and 100 meters surrounding the mortars.
Loading of shells is a delicate process, and must be done with caution, and a loader must ensure not only the mortar is clean, but also make sure that no part of their body is directly over the mortar in case of a premature fire. Wiring the shells is a painstaking process; whether the shells are being fired manually or electronically, any "chain fusing" or wiring of electrical ignitors, care must be taken to prevent the fuse (an electrical match, often incorrectly called a squib) from igniting. If the setup is wired electrically, the electrical matches are usually plugged into a "firing rail" or "breakout box" which runs back to the main firing board; from there, the Firing Board is simply hooked up to a car battery, and can proceed with firing the show when ready.
Since commercial-grade fireworks are so much larger and more powerful, setup and firing crews are always under great pressure to ensure they safely set up, fire and clean up after a show.
Fireworks produce smoke and dust that contain heavy metals, sulfur-coal compounds and other toxic chemicals. These by-products of fireworks combustion will vary depending on the mix of ingredients of a particular firework. (Green color, for instance, is produced by adding barium, a highly noxious heavy metal.) These variables include the amount of gunpowder used, type of oxidizer, colors produced, and launch method.
Pollutants from fireworks raise concerns because of potential health risks associated with the hazardous by-products. For most people the effects of exposure to low levels of toxins over a long period of time are unknown but for persons with asthma or multiple chemical sensitivity the smoke from fireworks may aggravate existing health problems. Environmental pollution is also a concern because heavy metals and other chemicals from fireworks can contaminate water supplies and because fireworks combustion gases can contribute to such things as acid rain which can cause vegetation and even property damage. Because of the pollution some countries are against the use of fireworks, yet many events are populated with the use of fireworks around the world. In the US some states and local governments restrict the use of fireworks in accordance with the Clean Air Act which allows laws relating to the prevention and control of outdoor air pollution to be enacted.
Laws governing consumer fireworksEdit
In other states, there is a wide variety in what types of fireworks are legal, what time of year they may be sold, and what time of year they may be set off.
- Walt Disney Company (June 28, 2004). Disney debuts new safer, quieter and more environmentally-friendly fireworks technology. Press Release.
- Natural Resources Canada, Explosive Regulatory Division. Display Fireworks Manual (March 2002 Edition)