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The birthplace of fireworks is generally recognized as China, with the first explosive mixture found being black powder, during the Sung dynasty ( 960-1279 ) they were used to frighten away evil spirits with their loud sound and also to pray for happiness and prosperity.
It is said that a cook in ancient china found that a mixture of sulfur, saltpeter, and charcoal was very flammable and would explode if enclosed in a small space.
The Chinese are still the leader in the production of fireworks. Once the recipe for black powder was perfected, they found that it was easily used as rocket fuel, and they made hand carved wooden rockets in the shape of a dragon. These rockets shot rocket powered arrows from their mouth, and were used against the Mongol invaders of 1279. The principle behind these rockets is still used in rocket powered fireworks today.
Eventually, the art and science of firework making developed into an independent profession. In ancient China, pyrotechnicians (firework-masters) were well-respected for their knowledge and skill in mounting dazzling displays of light and sound.
Before the 14th century fireworks for ceremonies and celebrations were mostly for royalties and the rich. It was only in the Ming Dynasty that any event for common people (a birth, a wedding, a business opening, or a New Year's Eve celebration) became a fitting occasion for fireworks and other noisemakers.
Through adventurous explorers, the knowledge of making fireworks spread west, through Arabia in the seventh century. The Arabs called the rockets Chinese arrows. The Mongols are credited with taking Chinese rockets and gunpowder to Europe around 1241. The first record of their use in Europe are around 1258.
Until the 19th century, fireworks lacked a major aesthetically essential characteristic: color.
Pyrotechnicians began to use a combination of potassium chlorate and various metallic salts to make brilliant colors. The salts of these metals produce the different colors: strontium burns red; copper makes blue; barium glows green; and sodium, yellow. Magnesium, aluminum, and titanium were found to give off white sparkles or a flash.
Even though China invented the fireworks, Europe surpassed them in pyrotechnic development in the 14th century, which coincides with the time the gun was invented. Shot and gunpowder for military use was made by skilled tradesmen, later called firemakers, who also made fireworks for peace or victory celebrations.
During the Renaissance, two European schools of pyrotechnic thought emerged: one in Italy and the other at Nuremberg, Germany. The Italian school of pyrotechnics emphasized elaborate fireworks, and the German school stressed scientific advancement. Both schools added significantly to further development of pyrotechnics, and by the mid-17th century fireworks were used for entertainment on an unprecedented scale in Europe, being popular even at resorts and public gardens.
In the U.S.A
America's earliest settlers brought their enthusiasm for fireworks to the United States. Fireworks and black ash were used to celebrate important events long before the American Revolutionary War. The very first celebration of Independence Day was in 1777, six years before Americans knew whether the new nation would survive the war; fireworks were a part of all festivities. In 1789, George Washington's inauguration was also accompanied by a fireworks display. This early fascination with their noise and color continues today.
In 2004, Disneyland in Anaheim, California, pioneered the commercial use of aerial fireworks launched with compressed air rather than gunpowder. The display shell explodes 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. The Walt Disney Company is the largest consumer of fireworks in the United States.
Currently pyrotechnical competitions involving fireworks are held in many countries. One of the most prestigious fireworks competition is the Montreal Fireworks Festival, an annual competition held in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Another magnificent competition is Le Festival dArt Pyrotechnique held in the summer annually at the Bay of Cannes in Cote dAzur, France. The World Pyro Olympics is an annual competition amongst the top fireworks companies in the world. It is held in Manila, Philippines. The event is one of the largest and most intense international fireworks competitions.