BUTTE, MT - If you had to guess where America's validated obsession with fireworks came from, where would you say?

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We figured it had something to do with Independence Day and the explosions that lit up the night sky that night, being emulated years later in remembrance and appreciation for the events that led us to where we are as a nation. That all sounds really great, but it simply isn't true (for the most part).

What if we told you that the history of the firework began in a long-forgotten ancient society? That Marco Polo himself harbored the ancient knowledge and brought it to Europe? And that the firework reached the Americas long before America was a country?

Let's explore the fascinating history of the firework.

A Blast from the Past: The Birth of Fireworks

Blasting into the past, the origins of the firework takes us to ancient China, where the earliest forms of the firework were developed during the Tang Dynasty in the 9th century. Ancient Chinese alchemists, experimenting with a concoction of ingredients including saltpeter (otherwise known as potassium nitrate), sulfur, and a sexy little chemical called charcoal, accidentally created everyone's favorite death cocktail: gunpowder! When the mixture was packed into bamboo tubes and ignited, it ended up producing a very loud explosion, which evidently turned into the first version of a firecracker.

The ancient Chinese used these ancient boomsticks a little bit differently than how we use them today: they were used to scare away evil spirits. Not a bad idea, actually...

Fireworks Make Their Way Across Continents

Fast forward a couple hundred years to the 13th century—a fine time to be alive (depending on what society you belong to). The knowledge of gunpowder and, with it, the firework, spreads from China to the Middle East and later to Europe through trade and exploration. Marco Polo, the famed travel blogger, is often credited with bringing this knowledge of gunpowder to Europe, though it is much more likely (and way less fun) that the knowledge transfer came about over time through general trade. Lame.

By the 14th century, the firework was finally developing into a closer ideation of what we recognize today. It became popular in European royal courts, where the firework was used to celebrate significant events and used as a way to get down. In particular, Italian pyrotechnicians were skilled in the arts of explosions and innovated many of the techniques that ended up shaping the modern firework.

Lighting Up the American Sky

Just another couple of hundred years later (time isn't real), we land violently on the North American continent in the early 1600s, where the firework came full circle: it was being used to ward off evil spirits—or what the White Man thought were "evil spirits." In fact, one of the earliest recorded uses of the firework was in 1608 by John Smith of Jamestown, who used fireworks to impress and subsequently intimidate Indigenous tribes in the region.

Then, on the beautiful day of July 4th, 1777, one year after America's Independence Day, celebrations of the anniversary saw the first connection between the 4th of July and fireworks. In a grand display in Philadelphia, raging bonfires, ringing bells, presumable rivers of mead or whatever they drank back then, and, of course, fireworks—making their 4th of July debut—proudly assaulted the city. The rest, as they say, is history. Literally.

The Science and Spectacle of Modern Fireworks

Modern fireworks have evolved significantly from their early forms. As the human's awesome obsession with loud, pretty explosions came to a climax, the firework saw the addition of metals and other chemicals in the 19th century to allow for the vibrant colors we witness today. Fun fact: strontium creates red, barium produces green, and other elements produce various colors through the process of oxidation. Cool, right?

A Tradition That Continues to Spark Joy

The use of fireworks in 4th of July celebrations connects us to a long history of human fascination with pyrotechnics. From their beginnings in ancient China to their role in American Independence Day, fireworks symbolize freedom, joy, and the spirit of celebration. As we watch the colorful explosions light up the night sky, we can appreciate the centuries of innovation and tradition that have brought us this spectacular form of entertainment—and scaring the hell out of American dogs.

For more detailed information, you can refer to the sources we used:
- History of Fireworks: From Ancient China to the Present Day
- The Explosive History of Fireworks: From Ancient China to Global Phenomenon
- The Evolution of Fireworks
- History of the Invention of Fireworks
- Fireworks’ Vibrant History

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