As the New Year approaches, I am pondering on the history of fireworks. Here is a brief on my search. The invention of fireworks dates back to 2,000 years ago in China. Legend tells that fireworks were discovered by accident by a Chinese cook working in a field kitchen who happened to mix charcoal, sulphur and saltpeter—commonly found in the kitchen in those days. The mixture burned and when compressed in an enclosure (a bamboo tube), the mixture exploded. Fireworks have been a part of Chinese culture to accompany many festivities. During the Song Dynasty (960–1279), many of the common people could purchase various kinds of fireworks from market vendors, and grand displays of fireworks were also known to be held. In 1110, a large fireworks display in a martial demonstration was held to entertain Emperor Huizong of Song (r. 1100–1125) and his court. Later, a Syrian named Hasan al-Rammah wrote of rockets, fireworks, and other incendiaries.
Chinese fireworks began to gain popularity in Europe around the mid-17th century. Lev Izmailov, ambassador of Peter the Great, once reported from China on the beauty of these incandescent fireworks. In 1706, Amédée-François Frézier published his revised work “Treatise on Fireworks,”covering the recreational and ceremonial uses of fireworks. In 1758, the Jesuit missionary Pierre Nicolas le Chéron d’Incarville, living in Beijing, wrote about the methods and composition on how to make many types of Chinese fireworks to the Paris Academy of Sciences, which revealed and published the account five years later. His writings would be translated in 1765, resulting in the popularization of fireworks and further attempts to uncover the secrets of Chinese fireworks.
For the most part, fireworks are made in much the same way today as they were hundreds of years ago, but now are mainly recreational. Modern fireworks may include designer colours, like pink and aqua that weren’t available in the past. In 2004, Disneyland in California launched, for the first time, fireworks using compressed air rather than gunpowder, and used electronic timers to explode the shells. This system allowed for increased accuracy in timing (so shows could be put to music), which reduced smoke and fumes from large spectacles.
I had the opportunity to enjoy the fireworks shows at Disney World in Orlando, and they were breathtaking! The images, the colours and the shapes of the fireworks were just marvelous. The unforgettable images glittered with beauty, sparkled cheers and celebration. On this note, let’s celebrate the New Year!
Art Talk 🙂
Fireworks. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fireworks (Dec. 30, 2013)
History of Fireworks. Retrieved from http://chemistry.about.com/od/historyofchemistry/a/fireworkhistory.htm
The History of Fireworks. Retrieved from http://kaleidoscope.cultural-china.com/en/10Kaleidoscope8486.html