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Sydney leads the world in one of the first major New Year celebrations each year.
An amateur fireworks show celebrating Independence Day in the United States
Fireworks in Japan.ogv
Fireworks video

Fireworks are a class of low explosive pyrotechnic devices used for aesthetic and entertainment purposes. The most common use of a firework is as part of a fireworks display. A fireworks event (also called a fireworks show or pyrotechnics) is a display of the effects produced by firework devices. Fireworks competitions are also regularly held at a number of places. Fireworks (devices) take many forms to produce the four primary effects: noise, light, smoke, and floating materials (confetti for example). They may be designed to burn with colored flames and sparks including red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and silver. Displays are common throughout the world and are the focal point of many cultural and religious celebrations.

Fireworks were invented in ancient China in the 12th century to scare away evil spirits, as a natural extension of the Chinese invention of gunpowder. Such important events and festivities as Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival were and still are times when fireworks are guaranteed sights. China is the largest manufacturer and exporter of fireworks in the world.

Fireworks are generally classified as to where they perform, either as a ground or aerial firework. In the latter case they may provide their own propulsion (skyrocket) or be shot into the air by a mortar (aerial shell).

The most common feature of fireworks is a paper or pasteboard tube or casing filled with the combustible material, often pyrotechnic stars. A number of these tubes or cases are often combined so as to make, when kindled, a great variety of sparkling shapes, often variously colored. The skyrocket is a common form of firework, although the first skyrockets were used in war. The aerial shell, however, is the backbone of today's commercial aerial display, and a smaller version for consumer use is known as the festival ball in the United States. Such rocket technology has also been used for the delivery of mail by rocket and is used as propulsion for most model rockets.

Contents

History

An etching of the 'Royal Fireworks' display on the Thames, London, England in 1749.
Preparing fireworks at Sayn Castle

The earliest documentation of fireworks dates back to 7th century China where they were first used to frighten away evil spirits with their loud sound (鞭炮/鞭砲 biān pào) and also to pray for happiness and prosperity.

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. A record in 1264 states that the speed of the rocket-propelled 'ground-rat' firework frightened the Empress Dowager Gong Sheng during a feast held in her honor by her son Emperor Lizong of Song (r. 1224–1264).[1] By the 14th century, rocket propulsion had become common in warfare, as evidenced by the Huolongjing compiled by Liu Ji (1311–1375) and Jiao Yu (fl. c. 1350–1412).[2]

However, in China fireworks for ceremonies and celebrations were mostly for royalties and the rich before the 14th century. 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.

Amédée-François Frézier published a "Treatise on Fireworks" in 1706, covering the recreational and ceremonial uses of fireworks, rather than their military uses. The book became a standard text for fireworks makers.

Music for the Royal Fireworks was composed by George Frideric Handel in 1749 to celebrate the peace Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which had been declared the previous year.

Safety

Improper use of fireworks may be dangerous, both to the person operating them (risks of burns and wounds) and to bystanders; in addition, they may start fires after landing on flammable material. For this reason, the use of fireworks is generally legally restricted. Display fireworks are restricted by law for use by professionals; consumer items, available to the public, are smaller versions containing limited amounts of explosive material to reduce potential dangers.

Fireworks are also a problem for animals, both domestic and wild, who can be terrified by their noise, leading to them running away, often into danger, or hurting themselves on fences or in other ways in an attempt to escape.[3][4][5]

Competitions

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 d’Art Pyrotechnique held in the summer annually at the Bay of Cannes in Côte d'Azur, 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.

A burning ground firework during a traditional Maltese feast.
A ground firework Showing various technical parts mentioned in the article, such as the chain and a set of gears.
The grand finale showing also the jets that produce power. A picture taken from the back so the stars and flowers are not so clearly visible.

Ground fireworks, although less popular than Aerial ones, create a stunning exhibition. These types of fireworks can produce various shapes, ranging from simple rotating circles, stars and 3D globes.[6]

Fireworks World Records

The current Guinness World Records as of 5 November 2007 are: [7]

Largest Catherine Wheel

A self-propelled vertical firework wheel 25.95m 85 ft in diameter was designed by the Newick Bonfire Society Ltd and fired for at least one revolution on 30 October 1999 at the Village Green, Newick, East Sussex, UK.

Largest firework display

The record for the largest firework display consisted of 66,326 fireworks and was achieved by Macedo'S Pirotecnia Lda. in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal, on 31 December 2006.

Longest firework waterfall

The world's longest firework waterfall was the 'Niagara Falls', which measured 3,125.79 m (10,255 ft 2.5 in) when ignited on 24 August 2003 at the Ariake Seas Fireworks Festival, Fukuoka, Japan.

Most firework rockets launched in 30 seconds

The record for the most firework rockets launched in 30 seconds is 56,405, in an attempt organized by Dr Roy Lowry (UK), executed by Fantastic Fireworks, at the 10th British Firework Championship in Plymouth, UK, on 16 August 2006.

Largest bonfire

The largest bonfire had an overall volume of 1,401.6 m³ (49,497 ft³). The bonfire was built by Colin Furze (UK) in Thistleton, Leicestershire, UK, and lit on 14 October 2006.

Tallest bonfire

The world's tallest bonfire tondo measured 37.5 m (123 ft) high, with a base of 8 m² (86 ft²) and an overall volume of 800 m³ (28,251 ft³). The event was organized by Kure Commemorative Centennial Events Committee, and lit on 9 February 2003 at Gohara-cho, Hiroshima, Japan, as part of a traditional ceremony to encourage good health and a generous harvest.

Clubs

Enthusiasts in the United States have formed clubs which unite hobbyists and professionals. The groups provide safety instruction and organize meetings and private “shoots” at remote premises where members shoot commercial fireworks as well as fire pieces of their own manufacture. Clubs secure permission to fire items otherwise banned by state or local ordinances. Competition among members and between clubs, demonstrating everything from single shells to elaborate displays choreographed to music, are held. One of the oldest clubs is Crackerjacks, Inc.,[8] organized in 1976 in the Eastern Seaboard region of the U.S.

PGI Annual Convention

The Pyrotechnics Guild International, Inc. or PGI, founded in 1969, is an independent worldwide nonprofit organization of amateur and professional fireworks enthusiasts. It is notable for its large number of members, around 3,500 in total. The PGI exists solely to further the safe usage and enjoyment of both professional grade and consumer grade fireworks while both advancing the art and craft of pyrotechnics and preserving its historical aspects. Each August the PGI conducts its annual week-long convention, where some the world's biggest and best fireworks displays occur. Vendors, competitors, and club members come from around the USA and from various parts of the globe to enjoy the show and to help out at this all-volunteer event. Aside from the nightly firework shows, the competition is a highlight of the convention. This is a completely unique event where individual classes of hand-built fireworks are competitively judged, ranging from simple fireworks rockets to extremely large and complex aerial shells. Some of the biggest, best, most intricate fireworks displays in the United States take place during the convention week.

Amateur and professional members can come to the convention to purchase fireworks, paper goods, novelty items, non-explosive chemical components and much more at the PGI trade show. Before the nightly fireworks displays and competitions, club members have a chance to enjoy open shooting of any and all legal consumer or professional grade fireworks, as well as testing and display of hand-built fireworks. The week ends with the Grand Public Display on Friday night, which gives the chosen display company a chance to strut their stuff in front of some of the world's biggest fireworks aficionados. The stakes are high and much planning is put into the show. In 1994 a shell of 36 inches (910 mm) in diameter was fired during the convention, more than twice as large as the largest shell usually seen in the USA, and shells as large as 24 inches (610 mm) are frequently fired.

Halloween

In Ireland (both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland), during the Halloween season, there are many fireworks displays. The largest are in the cities of Belfast, Derry and Dublin. The sale of fireworks is strongly restricted in the Republic of Ireland, though many illegal fireworks are sold throughout October or smuggled over the Northern Ireland border (where there is a large black market for fireworks). In the Republic, the punishment for possessing fireworks without a license is a €10,000 fine for possessing them, and/or a five year prison sentence. The punishment for having or lighting fireworks in a public place is the same.

Both fireworks and firecrackers are a popular tradition during Halloween in Vancouver, although apparently this is not the custom elsewhere in Canada. The two known firework displays used during All Hallows' Eve in the United States are the annual "Happy Hallowishes" show at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom "Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party" event, which began in 2005, and the "Halloween Screams" at Disneyland Park, which began on the 25th of September 2009.

Fireworks Use In the United States

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.[9]

The Walt Disney Company is the largest consumer

Indian Fireworks Celebrations

Indians in world celebrates with fireworks on their popular festival "festival of lights"(Diwali) in Oct-Nov every year.

Singapore Fireworks Celebrations

Singapore Fireworks Festival 2006, 8 Aug 2006

The Singapore Fireworks Celebrations (previously the Singapore Fireworks Festival) is an annual event held in Singapore as part of its National Day celebrations. The festival features local and foreign teams which launch displays on different nights. While currently non-competitive in nature, the organizer has plans to introduce a competitive element in the future.

The annual festival has grown in magnitude, from 4,000 rounds used in 2004, 6,000 in 2005, to over 9,100 in 2006.

Japanese Fireworks Festivals

During the summer in Japan, fireworks festivals (花火大会 hanabi taikai?) are held nearly everyday someplace in the country, in total numbering more than 200 during August. The festivals consist of large fireworks shows, the largest of which use between 100,000 and 120,000 rounds (Tondabayashi, Osaka), and can attract more than 800,000 spectators. Street vendors set up stalls to sell various drinks and staple Japanese food (such as Yakisoba, Okonomiyaki, Takoyaki, kakigori (shaved ice)), and traditionally held festival games, such as Kingyo-sukui, or Goldfish scooping.

Even today, men and women attend these events wearing the traditional Yukata, summer Kimono , or Jinbei (men only), collecting in large social circles of family or friends to sit picnic-like, eating and drinking, while watching the show.

Uses other than public displays

Consumer fireworks are fireworks the general public can buy. They typically involve using a punk to light them with and have less explosive power than professional fireworks, but can still produce a decent show. Some examples of consumer fireworks are firecrackers, rockets, and smoke balls.

Fireworks can also be used in an agricultural capacity as bird scarers.

Fireworks classifications in the United States

The United States government has classified fireworks and similar devices according to their potential hazards.

Previous US Department of Transportation (DOT) explosives classifications

Explosives, including fireworks, were previously divided into three classifications for transportation purposes by the DOT.

  • Class A explosives included high explosives such as dynamite, TNT, blasting caps, packages of flash powder, bulk packages of black powder and blasting agents such as ANFO and other slurry types of explosives.
  • Class B or class A explosives included low explosives such packages of flash powder and "special fireworks" which were the larger and more powerful fireworks used at most public displays.
  • Class C explosives included other low explosives such as igniters, fuses and "common fireworks", which were the smaller and less powerful fireworks available for sale to and use by the general public.

At the time most purchases and use of all of these explosives, with specific exceptions for high explosives purchased and used in state, black powder used for sporting purposes and common fireworks, required either a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms {previous name for Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)} license or permit to purchase and use, and/or a state or local license or permit to purchase and use.

New explosives classes

The U.S. government now uses the United Nations explosives shipping classification system. This new system is based on hazard in shipping only, vs. the old USA system of both shipping and use hazards. The BATF and most states performed a direct substitution of Shipping Class 1.3 for Class B, and Shipping Class 1.4 for Class C. This allows some hazardous items that would have previously been classified as Class B and regulated to be classified as Shipping Class 1.4 due to some packaging method that confines any explosion to the package. Being Shipping Class 1.4, they can now be sold to the general public and are unregulated by the BATF.

A code number and suffix (such as 1.3G) is not enough to fully describe a material and how it is regulated, especially in Shipping Class 1.4G. It also must have a UN Number that exactly describes the material. For example, common consumer fireworks are UN0336, or Shipping Class 1.4G UN0336.

Here are some common fireworks classes:

  • Class 1.1G (Mass Explosion Possible:Pyrotechnics) UN0094 Flashpowder
  • Class 1.1G (Mass Explosion Possible:Pyrotechnics) UN0333 Fireworks (Salutes in bulk or in manufacture)
  • Class 1.2G (Projection but not mass explosion:Pyrotechnics) UN0334 Fireworks (Rarely used)
  • Class 1.3G (Fire, Minor Blast:Pyrotechnics) UN0335 Fireworks (Most Display Fireworks) Current federal law states that (without appropriate ATF license/permit) the possession or sale of any display/professional fireworks is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison. Although some large firecracker 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.
    • 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
  • Class 1.4G (Minor Explosion Hazard Confined To Package:Pyrotechnics) UN0336 Fireworks (Consumer or Common Fireworks) Most popular consumer fireworks sold in the US.
  • Class 1.4S (Minor Explosion Hazard Confined To Package: Packed As To Not Hinder Nearby Firefighters) UN0336 Fireworks (Consumer or Common Fireworks)
  • Class 1.4G (Minor Explosion Hazard Confined To Package:Pyrotechnics) UN0431 ARTICLES, PYROTECHNIC for technical purposes (Proximate Pyrotechnics)
  • Class 1.4S (Minor Explosion Hazard Confined To Package: Packed As To Not Hinder Nearby Firefighters) UN0432 ARTICLES, PYROTECHNIC for technical purposes (Proximate Pyrotechnics)

Fireworks tubes are made by rolling thick paper tightly around a former, such as a dowel. They can be made by hand, most firework factories use machinery to manufacture tubes. Whenever tubes are used in fireworks, at least one end is always plugged with clay to keep both chemicals and burning gases from escaping through that end. The tooling is always made of non-sparking materials such as aluminium or brass. Experts at handling explosives, called pyrotechnicians, add chemicals for special effects.

British fireworks classification

Britain has its own system of classifying fireworks.

  • Category 1 - indoor fireworks, for use in small areas.
  • Category 2 - garden fireworks; must be safely viewable from 5 meters and must not scatter debris beyond 3 meters.
  • Category 3 - display fireworks; must be safely viewable from 25 meters and must not scatter debris beyond 50 meters.
  • Category 4 - professional fireworks; You must have adequate insurance and storage to purchase and use these fireworks. Insurance can only be obtained once you have a knowledge of the safe use and storage of Category 4 fireworks. There is no such thing as a "license" to buy or use Category 4 fireworks.

Pyrotechnic compounds

Copper compounds glow green or blue-green in a flame.

Colors in fireworks are usually generated by pyrotechnic stars—usually just called stars—which produce intense light when ignited. Stars contain five basic types of ingredients.

  • A fuel which allows the star to burn
  • An oxidizer—a compound which produces (usually) oxygen to support the combustion of the fuel
  • Color-producing chemicals
  • A binder which holds the pellet together.
  • A chlorine donor which provides chlorine to strengthen the color of the flame. Sometimes the oxidizer can serve this purpose.

Some of the more common color-producing compounds are tabulated here. The color of a compound in a firework will be the same as its color in a flame test (shown at right). Not all compounds that produce a colored flame are appropriate for coloring fireworks, however. Ideal colorants will produce a pure, intense color when present in moderate concentration.

Color Metal Example compounds
Red Strontium (intense red)

Lithium (medium red)

SrCO3 (strontium carbonate)

Li2CO3 (lithium carbonate)

Orange Calcium CaCl2 (calcium chloride)
Yellow Sodium NaNO3 (sodium nitrate)
Green Barium BaCl2 (barium chloride)
Blue Copper halides CuCl2 (copper chloride), at low temperature
Indigo Cesium CsNO3 (cesium nitrate)
Violet Potassium

Rubidium (violet-red)

KNO3 (potassium nitrate)

RbNO3 (rubidium nitrate)

Gold Charcoal, iron, or lampblack
White Titanium, aluminium, beryllium, or magnesium powders

The brightest stars, often called Mag Stars, are fueled by aluminium. Magnesium is rarely used in the fireworks industry due to its lack of ability to form a protective oxide layer. Often an alloy of both metals called magnalium is used.

Many of the chemicals used in the manufacture of fireworks are non-toxic, while many more have some degree of toxicity, can cause skin sensitivity, or exist in dust form and are thereby inhalation hazards. Still others are poisons if directly ingested or inhaled.

Abstract reference of chemicals used in fireworks industry

The following table is an educational guideline for the chemistry of fireworks.

Symbol Name Fireworks Usage
Al
Aluminum Aluminum is used to produce silver and white flames and sparks. It is a common component of sparklers.
Ba
Barium Barium is used to create green colors in fireworks, and it can also help stabilize other volatile elements.
C
Carbon Carbon is one of the main components of black powder, which is used as a propellent in fireworks. Carbon provides the fuel for a firework. Common forms include carbon black, sugar, or starch.
Ca
Calcium Calcium is used to deepen firework colors. Calcium salts produce orange fireworks.
Cl
Chlorine Chlorine is an important component of many oxidizers in fireworks. Several of the metal salts that produce colors contain chlorine.
Cu
Copper Copper compounds produce blue colors in fireworks
Fe
Iron Iron is used to produce sparks. The heat of the metal determines the color of the sparks.
K
Potassium Potassium compounds help to oxidize firework mixtures. Potassium nitrate, potassium chlorate, and potassium perchlorate are all important oxidizers. The potassium content can impart a violet color to the sparks.
Li
Lithium Lithium is a metal that is used to impart a red color to fireworks. Lithium carbonate, in particular, is a common colorant.
Mg
Magnesium Magnesium burns a very bright white, so it is used to add white sparks or improve the overall brilliance of a firework.
Na
Sodium Sodium imparts a gold or yellow color to fireworks, however, the color is often so bright that it frequently masks other, less intense colors.
O
Oxygen Fireworks include oxidizers, which are substances that produce oxygen in order for burning to occur. The oxidizers are usually nitrates, chlorates, or perchlorates. Sometimes the same substance is used to provide oxygen and color.
P
Phosphorus Phosphorus burns spontaneously in air and is also responsible for some glow in the dark effects. It may be a component of a firework's fuel.
S
Sulfur Sulfur is a component of black powder, and as such, it is found in a firework's propellant/fuel.
Sb
Antimony Antimony is used to create firework glitter effects.
Sr
Strontium Strontium salts impart a red color to fireworks. Strontium compounds are also important for stabilizing fireworks mixtures.
Ti
Titanium Titanium metal can be burned as powder or flakes to produce silver sparks.
Zn
Zinc Zinc is a bluish white metal that is used to create smoke effects for fireworks and other pyrotechnic devices

Types of effects

For video examples see: [1]

Peony

A spherical break of colored stars that burn without a tail effect. The peony is the most commonly seen shell type.

Chrysanthemum

A spherical break of colored stars, similar to a peony, but with stars that leave a visible trail of sparks.

Dahlia

Essentially the same as a peony shell, but with fewer and larger stars. These stars travel a longer-than-usual distance from the shell break before burning out. For instance, if a 3" peony shell is made with a star size designed for a 6" shell, it is then considered a dahlia. Some dahlia shells are cylindrical rather than spherical to allow for larger stars.

Willow

Similar to a chrysanthemum, but with long-burning silver or gold stars that produce a soft, dome-shaped weeping willow-like effect.

Palm

A collection of palm-shell fireworks illuminating the beach of Tybee Island, Georgia

A shell containing a relatively few large comet stars arranged in such a way as to burst with large arms or tendrils, producing a palm tree-like effect. Proper palm shells feature a thick rising tail that displays as the shell ascends, thereby simulating the tree trunk to further enhance the "palm tree" effect. One might also see a burst of color inside the palm burst (given by a small insert shell) to simulate coconuts.

Ring

A shell with stars specially arranged so as to create a ring. Variations include smiley faces, hearts, and clovers.

Diadem

A type of Peony or Chrysanthemum with a center cluster of non-moving stars, normally of a contrasting color or effect.

Kamuro

A typical kamuro effect

Kamuro is a Japanese word meaning "Boys Haircut" which is what this shell looks like when fully exploded in the air. A dense burst of glittering silver or gold stars which leave a heavy glitter trail and are very shiny in the night's sky.

Crossette

A shell containing several large stars that travel a short distance before breaking apart into smaller stars with a loud crackling sound, creating a crisscrossing grid-like effect. Once limited to silver or gold effects, colored crossettes such as red, green, or white are now very common.

Spider

A shell containing a fast burning tailed or charcoal star that is burst very hard so that the stars travel in a straight and flat trajectory before burning out. This appears in the sky as a series of radial lines much like the legs of a spider.

A typical spider effect

Horsetail

Named for the shape of its break, this shell features heavy long-burning tailed stars that only travel a short distance from the shell burst before free-falling to the ground. Also known as a waterfall shell. Sometimes there is a glittering through the "waterfall."

Time Rain

An effect created by large, slow-burning stars within a shell that leave a trail of large glittering sparks behind and make a very loud sizzling noise. The "time" refers to the fact that these stars burn away gradually, as opposed to the standard brocade "rain" effect where a large amount of glitter material is released at once.

Multi-Break shells

A large shell containing several smaller shells of various sizes and types. The initial burst scatters the shells across the sky before they explode. Also called a bouquet shell. When a shell contains smaller shells of the same size and type, the effect is usually referred to as "Thousands". Very large bouquet shells (up to 48 inches) are frequently used in Japan.

Fish

Large inserts that propel themselves rapidly away from the shell burst, often looking like fish swimming away.

Salute

A shell containing a large quantity of flash powder rather than stars, producing a quick flash followed by a very loud report. Titanium may be added to the flash powder mix to produce a cloud of bright sparks around the flash. Salutes are commonly used in large quantities during finales to create intense noise and brightness. They are often cylindrical in shape to allow for a larger payload of flash powder, but ball shapes are common and cheaper as well. Salutes are also called Maroons.

Mine

A mine (aka. pot-au-′feu) is a ground firework that expels stars and/or other garnitures into the sky. Shot from a mortar like a shell, a mine consists of a canister with the lift charge on the bottom with the effects placed on top. Mines can project small reports, serpents, small shells, as well as just stars. Although mines up to 12 inches in diameter appear on occasion, they are usually between 3 and 5 inches in diameter.

Roman Candle

A Roman candle is a long tube containing several large stars which fire at a regular interval. These are commonly arranged in fan shapes or crisscrossing shapes, at a closer proximity to the audience. Some larger Roman candles contain small shells (bombettes) rather than stars.

Cake

A cake is a cluster of small tubes linked by fuse, that fire small aerial effects at a rapid pace. Tube diameters can range in size from ¼ inch to 4 inches, and can sometimes have over 1,000 shots. These are often used in large quantities as part of a show's finale. The variety of effects within individual cakes is often such that they defy descriptive titles and are instead given cryptic names such as "Bermuda Triangle", "Pyro Glyphics", "Waco Wakeup", and "Poisonous Spider", to name a few. Others are simply quantities of 2.5"-4" shells fused together in single-shot tubes.

Noise Related Effects

Bangs and Report
The bang is the most common effect in fireworks and is a thunder clap or technically a report.

Crackle
The sound of angry rice crispies with lots of snap, crackle and pop.

Hummers
Tiny tube fireworks that are ejected into the air spinning with such force that they shred their outer coating, in doing so they whizz and hum.

Whistle
High pitched often very loud screaming and screeching created by the resonance of gas. This is caused by a very fast strobing (on/off burning stage) of the fuel. The rapid bursts of gas from the fuel vibrate the air many hundreds of times per second causing the familiar whistling sound. It is not - as is commonly thought - made in the conventional way that musical instruments are using specific tube shapes or apertures. Common whistle fuels contain Benzoate or Salicylate compounds and a suitable oxidizer such as Potassium Perchlorate.

Laws and politics

Safety of consumer fireworks in USA

Consumer fireworks are illegal in Stafford, Texas, United States
An example of a consumer firework in California

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 soccer.[10]

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has guidelines concerning the standard of consumer fireworks sold in the US. Together with US Customs, 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". Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is the federal agency that regulates explosives, including Display Fireworks in the US.

Many states have laws which 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 illegally possessing fireworks.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) 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. North Carolina limits fireworks to a charge of 200 grams of blackpowder. States such as Arizona, New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Delaware ban all consumer fireworks completely. New Jersey has recently revoked the ban on all fireworks. Maine only allows sparklers. On the other hand, states such as South Dakota, South Carolina and Tennessee allow most or all legal consumer fireworks to be sold and used throughout the year. New Mexico in some cases, will not allow fireworks from individual residents if the fireworks are said to detonate over 5 feet (1.5 m) in height.

Illinois only permits sparklers, snake/glow worm pellets, smoke devices, trick noisemakers, and plastic or paper caps.[11] However, many users travel to neighboring states such as Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky, and Wisconsin to obtain fireworks for use in Illinois.[12] This situation is similar to the plight of many St. Louis residents as fireworks are illegal within both city and county limits. However, fireworks are readily available in nearby St. Charles County.

Pennsylvania is somewhere in between; the law only allows fireworks that don't leave the ground to be sold and used by residents. Yet residents from out of state and Pennsylvania residents with a permit can buy any consumer fireworks from an outlet.

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.

Safety of display fireworks in USA

Federal, state, and local authorities govern the use of display fireworks in the United States. At the federal level, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) sets forth a set of codes which give the minimum standards of display fireworks use and safety in the USA. Both state and local jurisdictions can further add restrictions on the use and safety requirements of display fireworks. Typically, these jurisdictions will require a licensed operator to discharge the show. Although requirements vary from state to state, licensed operators and their crew are typically required to have hours of extensive training in the safe use of display fireworks.

These codes can include, but are not limited to, distance from the audience, maximum size shell, firing location requirements, electrical firing system requirements, and the minimum safety gear to be worn by the fireworks crew. These guidelines are explained in the NFPA 1123 fireworks code.

Safety of commercial and display fireworks in Canada

Fireworks safety is considered to be extremely important in 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 50 mm (2 inches) up to 300 mm (12 inches) or more in diameter. Commercial grade fireworks require a fireworks supervisors card, obtained from the ERD by completing a one day safety course. There are 3 levels, Apprentice, which allows you to work under a qualified supervisor until you are familiar with the basics. Then Supervisor level 1, which allows you to independently use and fire most commercial grade pyrotechnics. Finally Supervisor level 2 expands on that, allowing firing from barges, bridges, rooftops and over unusual sites. Since commercial-grade fireworks are shells which are loaded into separate mortars by hand, there is danger in every stage of the setup.[13] 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 for an oblong firing site require that a mortar be configured at an 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, plus distance adjustments for wind speed and direction. In June 2007, the ERD approved circular firing sites for use with vertically fired mortars with a safety distance of at least 175 meter radius, plus distance adjustments for wind speed and direction.[14]

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.

Safety of Consumer Fireworks In Britain

Safety of Consumer Fireworks in England, Scotland and Wales is always a widely discussed topic around Guy Fawkes Night, November 5. The most common injuries are burns from hand-held fireworks such as sparklers. There are also injuries due to people being hit by projectiles fired from fireworks, although these can usually be explained by people setting up fireworks incorrectly. Other issues include the dangers of falling rocket sticks, especially from larger rockets containing metal motors. "Shock" adverts have been used for many years in an attempt to restrict injuries from fireworks, especially targeted at young people. The vast majority of fireworks are "Category 3, (Display Fireworks)" all of which state that spectators must be at least 25 metres away when the firework is fired. This is a safety concern as few people have access to that amount of private space. Other categories include "Category 2 (Garden Fireworks)" for which spactators must be a minimum of 5 metres away when the firework is fired, and "Category 4 - Professional Use Only". Any firework classed as Category 4 may only be used by professional pyrotechnists and must not be sold to the general public.

Safety of commercial and display fireworks in Britain

In the UK, responsibility for the safety of firework displays is shared between the Health and Safety Executive, fire brigades and local authorities. Currently, there is no national system of licencing for fireworks operators, but in order to purchase display fireworks, operators must have licenced explosives storage and public liability insurance.

Pollution

Fireworks produce smoke and dust that may contain residues of heavy metals, sulfur-coal compounds and some low concentration toxic chemicals. These by-products of fireworks combustion will vary depending on the mix of ingredients of a particular firework. (The color green, for instance, may be produced by adding the various compounds and salts of Barium, some of which are toxic, and some of which are not.) Some fisherman have noticed and reported to environmental authorities that firework residues can hurt fish and other waterlife because some may contain toxic compounds such as antimony sulfide. This is a subject of much debate due to the fact that large-scale pollution from other sources makes it difficult to measure the amount of pollution that comes specifically from fireworks. The possible toxicity of any fallout may also be affected by the amount of black powder used, type of oxidizer, colors produced and launch method.

Fireworks have also been noted as a source of perchlorate in lakes.[15] The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency's Richard Wilkin and colleagues, have conducted research on the use of pyrotechnic devices over bodies of water noting concerns over the effects of environmental perchlorate on human health and wildlife. Sources of perchlorate range from lightening and certain fertilizers to the perchlorate compounds in rocket fuel and explosives. Scientists long suspected community fireworks displays were another source, but few studies had been done on the topic. Wilkin's group has now established fireworks displays as a source of perchlorate contamination by analyzing water in an Oklahoma lake before and after fireworks displays in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Within 14 hours after the fireworks, perchlorate levels rose 24 to 1,028 times above background levels. Levels peaked about 24 hours after the display, and then decreased to the pre-fireworks background within 20- to 80 days. The study is detailed in the June 1, 2007 issue of the journal Environmental Science & Technology. ( Environ. Sci. Technol., 2007, 41 (11), pp 3966–3971) [2]

Perchlorate, a type of salt in its solid form, dissolves and moves rapidly in groundwater and surface water. Even in low concentrations in drinking water supplies, perchlorate is known to inhibit the uptake of iodine by the thyroid gland. While there are currently no federal drinking water standards for perchlorate, some states have established public health goals, or action levels, and some are in the process of establishing state maximum contaminant levels. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency have studied the impacts of perchlorate on the environment as well as drinking water. [3] California has also issued guidance regarding perchlorate use. [4]

Several states have enacted drinking water standard for perchlorate including Massachusetts in 2006. California's legislature enacted AB 826, the Perchlorate Contamination Prevention Act of 2003, requiring California's Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) to adopt regulations specifying best management practices for perchlorate and perchlorate-containing substances. The Perchlorate Best Management Practices were adopted on December 31, 2005 and became operative on July 1, 2006. [5] California issued drinking water standards in 2007. Several other states, including Arizona, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, and Texas have established non-enforceable, advisory levels for perchlorate.

The courts have also taken action with regard to perchlorate contamination. For example, in 2003, a federal district court in California found that Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) applied because perchlorate is ignitable and therefore a “characteristic” hazardous waste. (see Castaic Lake Water Agency v. Whittaker, 272 F. Supp. 2d 1053, 1059-61 (C.D. Cal. 2003)).

Pollutants from fireworks raise concerns because of potential health risks associated with hazardous by-products. For most people the effects of exposure to low levels of toxins from many sources over long periods are unknown. For persons with asthma or multiple chemical sensitivity the smoke from fireworks may aggravate existing health problems.[16] Environmental pollution is also a concern because heavy metals and other chemicals from fireworks may contaminate water supplies and because fireworks combustion gases might contribute to such things as acid rain which can cause vegetation and even property damage. However, gunpowder smoke and the solid residues are basic, and as such the net effect of fireworks on acid rain is debatable. The carbon used in fireworks is produced from wood and does not lead to more carbon dioxide in the air. What is not disputed is that most consumer fireworks leave behind a considerable amount of solid debris, including both readily biodegradable components as well as nondegradable plastic items. Concerns over pollution, consumer safety, and debris have restricted the sale and use of consumer fireworks in many countries. Professional displays, on the other hand, remain popular around the world.

Others argue that alleged concern over pollution from fireworks constitutes a red herring, since the amount of contamination from fireworks is minuscule in comparison to emissions from sources such as the burning of fossil fuels. 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. Few governmental entities, by contrast, effectively limit pollution from burning fossil fuels such as diesel fuel or coal. Coal fueled electricity generation alone is a much greater source of heavy metal contamination in the environment than fireworks.

Some companies within the U.S. fireworks industry claim they are working with Chinese manufacturers to reduce and ultimately hope to eliminate of the pollutant perchlorate[17].

Misconceptions about fireworks chemistry

Some reports on fireworks incorrectly[citation needed] contend that fireworks contain chemicals such as radioactive barium, in effect creating radioactive fallout. Radioactive substances such as the isotopes of barium have no application in fireworks and are not used. Elemental lead, rubidium, and cadmium also are not used in fireworks, and their compounds see little if any use. Other reports contend that fireworks contain arsenic, dioxins, or other extremely poisonous chemicals, when in fact such chemicals are not used in modern-day fireworks. Such reports are false and are easily debunked with the use of common chemistry or pyrotechny texts, but this does little to stop the spread of these common inaccuracies.[18]

Laws governing consumer fireworks

United States

Fireworks at Disneyland

In the United States, the laws governing consumer fireworks vary widely from state to state, or from county to county. It is common for consumers to cross state and county lines in order to purchase types of fireworks which are outlawed in their home-jurisdictions. Fireworks laws in urban areas typically limit sales or use by dates or seasons. Municipalities may have stricter laws than their counties or states do.

The American Pyrotechnic Association maintains a directory of state laws pertaining to fireworks.

Five states (Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island) ban the sale of all consumer fireworks including novelties and sparklers by the general public.

One state (Arizona) permits residents to purchase and use only novelties.

Three states (Illinois, Iowa, and Maine) permit residents to purchase and use only wire or wood stick sparklers and other novelties.

Nineteen states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia) allow residents to purchase and use non-aerial and non-explosive fireworks like novelties, fountains and sparklers. Wisconsin also allows the purchase of aerial explosive fireworks, but only allows their launch in designated areas in each county.

For example: California has very specific requirements for the types of consumer fireworks that can be sold to and used by residents. Even then each city can and often does place restrictions on sale and use. Although the manufacturing of fireworks for the whole state is legal if used as an artform and if you aren't distributing those fireworks.

Another example: In Minnesota only consumer fireworks that do not explode or fly through the air are now permitted to be sold to and used by residents. In Nebraska the sale and use of all consumer fireworks are prohibited in Omaha, while in Lincoln there is a two-day selling period and in other parts of the state all of the permitted types can be sold and used by residents.

Because some states restrict the in-state use of fireworks by purchasers, large fireworks stores, like this one near Richmond, Indiana, are sometimes located on state borders.

Twenty one states—Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming—and Pennsylvania permit the sale of all or most types of consumer fireworks to residents. Many of these states have selling seasons around Independence Day and/or Christmas and New Year's Eve. Some of these states also allow local laws or regulations to further restrict the types permitted or the selling seasons.

For example: Missouri permits all types of consumer fireworks to be sold to residents with two selling seasons; June 20–July 10 and December 20–January 2. South Carolina permits all types of consumer fireworks except small rockets less than ½” in diameter and 3” long to be sold and used by residents year round.

Two states (Hawaii and Nevada) allow each county to establish their own regulations. For example, Clark County, Nevada, where Las Vegas is located, allows residents to purchase and use only non-explosive and non-aerial consumer fireworks during Independence Day, while other counties permit all types of consumer fireworks.

Many states have stores with all types of consumer fireworks that sell to non-residents with the provision they are to remove the purchased fireworks from that state. This is why there are so many stores selling all types of consumer fireworks in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Missouri, New Hampshire, Nevada and Wisconsin, even though residents are limited or prohibited from buying or using those very same consumer fireworks unless they have the appropriate licenses and/or permits.

Many Native American Tribes have consumer fireworks stores on reservation lands that are exempt from state and local authority. However, they are not exempt from federal law.

Other countries

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom fireworks cannot be sold to people under the age of 18 and are not permitted to be set off between 11pm and 7am with exceptions only for:

The legal NEC (Net Explosive Content) of a UK Firework available to the public is 2 Kilograms, 4 times the legal amount in the USA. Jumping Jacks, Strings of Firecrackers, Shell Firing tubes, Bangers and Mini-Rockets were all banned during the 1990s. In 2004 single shot Air Bombs and Bottle Rockets were banned, and rocket sizes were limited. From March 2008 any firework with over 5% flashpowder per tube will be classified 1.3G. The aim of these measures was to eliminate "pocket money" fireworks, and to limit the disruptive effects of loud bangs.

Republic of Ireland

In the Republic of Ireland, fireworks are illegal and possession is punishable by huge fines and/or prison. However, around Halloween a large amount of fireworks are set off, due to the ease of being able to purchase from Northern Ireland.

New Zealand

Fireworks in New Zealand are available from the 2nd-5 November, and may be purchased only by those 18 years of age and older (up from 14 years pre-2007). Despite the restriction on when fireworks may be sold, there is no restriction regarding when fireworks may be used. The types of fireworks available to the public are multi-shot "cakes", Roman candles, single shot shooters, ground and wall spinners, fountains, cones, sparklers, and various novelties, such as smoke bombs and Pharaoh's serpents. Skyrockets, and other fireworks where the firework itself flies, are specifically banned, as well as bangers and firecrackers. It is worth noting also that sparklers may not be bought by themselves, available only in larger packets containing other fireworks. This is because of the popularity of sparkler bombs. However, several retailers get around this rule by including three cheap non-sparkler firework (i.e a fountain) in cheap sparkler assortment packages. These rules are for the 2009 Guy Fawkes season.[20]

Norway

In Norway, fireworks can only be purchased and used by people 18 or older. Rockets are not allowed.[21]

Australia

In Australia, Type 1 fireworks are permitted to be sold to the public. For anything that has a large explosion or gets airborne, users need to register for a Type 2 Licence. On August 24, 2009 the ACT Government announced a complete ban on backyard fireworks.[22] The Northern Territory allows fireworks to be sold to residents 18 years or older in the days leading up to Northern Territory Day (July 1) for personal purposes. The types of fireworks allowed for sale is restricted to quieter fireworks, which can only be used at the address provided to the seller.[citation needed]

Netherlands

In the Netherlands, fireworks cannot be sold to anyone under the age of 16. It may only be sold during a period of three days before a new year. If one of these days is a Sunday, that day is excluded from sale and sale may commence one day earlier.[23]

Sweden

In Sweden, people under the age of 18 are not allowed to purchase fireworks. Sweden allows adults to buy any kinds of fireworks for New Year's Eve and Easter.

Finland

In Finland those under 18 years old haven't been allowed to buy any fireworks since 2009. Safety goggles are required. The use of fireworks is generally allowed on the evening and night of New Year's Eve, December 31. In some municipalities of Western Finland it is allowed to use fireworks without a firestation's permission on the last weekend of August. One can use fireworks around the year with that firestation's permission.

Iceland

In Iceland, the Icelandic law states that anyone may purchase and use fireworks during a certain period around New Year's Eve. Most places that sell fireworks in Iceland make their own rules about age of buyers, usually it is around 16. The people of Reykjavík spend enormous sums of money on fireworks, most of which are fired as midnight approaches on December 31. As a result, every New Year's Eve the city is lit up with fireworks displays.

Switzerland

In Switzerland Fireworks are often used on the 1st of August, which is a national celebration day.

France

In France, fireworks are traditionally displayed on the eve of Bastille day (July 14) to commemorate the French revolution and the storming of the Bastille on that same day in 1789. Every city in France lights up the sky for the occasion with a special mention to Paris that offers an spectacle around the Eiffel Tower.

Chile

In Chile, both the manufacture, importation, possession and use of fireworks is prohibited to unauthorized individuals, only certified firework companies can legally use fireworks. They are considered as a type of explosives, so that offenders can be tried before military courts. It's not used often, though.

References

  1. ^ Crosby, Alfred W. (2002), Throwing Fire: Projectile Technology Through History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521791588. Pages 100–103.
  2. ^ Needham, Volume 5, Part 7, 489–503.
  3. ^ http://www.animalaid.org.uk/h/n/NEWS/news_living/ALL/1680//
  4. ^ http://vetmedicine.about.com/cs/diseasesall/a/petsfireworks.htm
  5. ^ http://kb.rspca.org.au/How-should-I-care-for-my-pets-during-fireworks-displays_82.html
  6. ^ "3D Globe using only fire power". Saint Philip's Fireworks Factory. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEEzp7PySkI&feature=related. Retrieved 2008-06-06. 
  7. ^ Guinness Book of World Records. "Fireworks Fun!". Guinness Book of World Records. http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/news/2007/11/071105.aspx. Retrieved 2009-30-12. 
  8. ^ Crackerjacks
  9. ^ Walt Disney Company (June 28, 2004). Disney debuts new safer, quieter and more environmentally-friendly fireworks technology. Press Release
  10. ^ "Fireworks: safer than candles, tableware." Dave Stoddard, Sacramento Ledger Dispatch, July 14, 2006.
  11. ^ 425 ILCS 35/ Fireworks Use Act
  12. ^ http://daily-journal.com/archives/dj/display.php?id=423245
  13. ^ Natural Resources Canada, Explosive Regulatory Division. Display Fireworks Manual (March 2002 Edition)
  14. ^ http://web.archive.org/web/20080227052543/http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/mms/explosif/pdf/bull48_e.pdf Natural Resources Canada Explosive Branch Bulletin #48
  15. ^ Fireworks Displays Linked To Perchlorate Contamination In Lakes
  16. ^ New Scientist - Great fireworks, shame about the toxic fallout
  17. ^ Knee, Karen. Philadelphia Inquirer. 4 Jul 2009. Pa. company works to make fireworks greener
  18. ^ AFSL Standards listing (Appendix A) prohibited and permitted chemicals
  19. ^ a b c d Statutory Instrument 2004 No. 1836 The Fireworks Regulations 2004, United Kingdom.
  20. ^ Scoop: Council welcomes controls on fireworks
  21. ^ http://www.brannvernforeningen.no/index.asp?id=30438 Norsk brannvernforening: Fyrverkeri
  22. ^ "Cracker down: ACT bans fireworks". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 24 August 2009. http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/08/24/2664761.htm. Retrieved 24 August 2009. 
  23. ^ "Article 2.3.5 of the Besluit van 22 januari 2002, houdende nieuwe regels met betrekking tot consumenten- en professioneel vuurwerk (Vuurwerkbesluit) Decision of January 22, 2002, laying down new rules on consumer and professional fireworks (Fireworks Decision)" (in Dutch). Vuurwerkbesluit. 2002-01-22. http://wetten.overheid.nl/BWBR0013360/geldigheidsdatum_20-04-2009. Retrieved 2009-04-20. "http://translate.google.com/translate?js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwetten.overheid.nl%2FBWBR0013360%2Fgeldigheidsdatum_20-04-2009&sl=nl&tl=en&history_state0=" 
  • Quote from Dave Whysall of Dave Whysall's International Fireworks located in Orton, ON. www.dwfireworks.com

External links

Further reading

  • Plimpton, George (1984). Fireworks: A History and Celebration. Doubleday. ISBN 0385154143. 
  • Brock, Alan St. Hill (1949). A History of Fireworks. George G. Harrap & Co. 
  • Russell, Michael S (2008). The chemistry of fireworks. Royal Society of Chemistry, Great Britain. ISBN 9780854041275. 
  • Shimizu, Takeo (1996). Fireworks: The Art, Science, and Technique. Pyrotechnica Publications. ISBN 978-0929388052. 

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

FIREWORKS. In modern times this term is principally associated with the art of " pyrotechny " (Gr. 7rvp, fire, and TEXVrt, art), and confined to the production of pleasing scenic effects by means of fire and inflammable and explosive substances. But the history of the evolution of such displays is bound up with that of the use of such substances not only for scenic display but for exciting fear and for military purposes; and it is consequently complicated by our lack of exact knowledge as to the materials at the disposal of the ancients prior to the invention of gunpowder (see also the article Greek Fire). For the following historical account the term " fireworks " is therefore used in a rather general sense.

History

It is usually stated that from very ancient times fireworks were known in China; it is, however, difficult to assign dates or quote trustworthy authorities. Pyrotechnic displays were certainly given in the Roman circus. While a passage in Manilius,' who lived in the days of Augustus, seems to bear this interpretation, there is the definite evidence of Vopiscus 2 that fireworks were performed for the emperor Carinus and later for the emperor Diocletian; and Claudian,3 writing in the 4th century, gives a poetical description of a set piece, where whirling wheels and dropping fountains of fire were displayed upon the pegma, a species of movable framework employed in the various spectacles presented in the circus. After the fall of the Western empire no mention of fireworks can be traced until the Crusaders carried back with them to Europe a knowledge of the incendiary compounds of the East, and gunpowder had made its appearance. Biringuccio, 4 writing in 1540, says that at an anterior period it had been customary at Florence and Siena to represent a fable or story at the Feast of St John or at the Assumption, and that on these occasions stage properties, including effigies with wooden bodies and plaster limbs, were grouped upon lofty pedestals, and that these figures gave forth flames, whilst round about tubes or pipes were erected for projecting fire-balls into the air: but he adds that these shows were never heard of in his time except at Rome when a pope was elected or crowned. But if relinquished in Italy, fire festivals on the eve of St John were observed both in England and France; the custom was a very old one in the days of Queen Elizabeth, 5 while De Frezier, 6 writing in 1707, says it was commonly adhered to in his time, and that on one occasion the king of France himself set a light to the great Paris bonfire. Survivals of these curious rites have been noted quite recently in Scotland and Ireland. ? Early use also of fireworks was made in plays and pageants. Hell or hell's mouth was represented by a 1 Manilius, Astronomica, lib. v., 438-443.

2 Vopiscus, Carus, Numerianus et Carinus, ch. xix.

Claudianus, De consulatu Manlii Theodori, 325-330.

} Vanuzzio Biringuccio, Pyrotechnia. 5 Strutts, Sports and Pastimes of the English People. 6 De Frezier, Traite des feux d'artitice (1707 and 1747).

Notes and Queries, series 5, vol. ix. p. 140, and series 8, vol. ii. pp. 145 and 254.

gigantic head out of which flames were made to issue: 1 in the river procession on the occasion of the marriage of Henry VII. and Elizabeth (1487) the " Bachelors' Barge " carried a dragon spouting flames, and Hall relates that at the marriage of Anne Boleyn (1538) " there went before the lord mayor's barge a foyst or wafter full of ordnance, which foyst also carried a great red dragon that spouted out wild fyre and round about were terrible monstrous and wild men casting fire and making a hideous noise." 2 These individuals were known as " green men." Their clothing was green, they wore fantastic masks, and carried " fire clubs." They were sometimes employed to clear the way at processions.3 Soon after the introduction of gunpowder the gunner and fireworker came into existence; at first they were not soldiers, but civilians who sometimes exercised military functions, and part of their dutieswasintimately connected with the preparation of fireworks both for peace and war. The emperor Charles V. brought his fireworks under definite regulations in 15354 and eventually other countries did the same. The ignes triumphales were an early form of public fireworks. Scaffold poles were erected with trophies at their summits, while fixed around them were tiers of casks filled with combustibles, so that they presented the appearance of huge flaming trees; at their bases crouched dragons or other mythical beasts. With such a display Antwerp welcomed the archduke of Austria in 1550.5 Then the " fire combat " came into fashion. Helmets from which flames would issue were provided for the performers; there were also swords and clubs that would give out sparks at every stroke, lances with fiery points, and bucklers that when struck gave forth a detonation and a flame. A picture of a combat with weapons such as these will be found in Hanzelet's Recueil de machines militaires (1620). In addition, the fireworker grew to be somewhat of a scenic artist who could devise a romantic background and fill it with shapes bizarre, beautiful or terrific; he had to make his castle, his cave or his rocky ravine, and people his stage with distressed damsel, errant knight or devouring dragon. Furthermore he had to give motion to the inanimate persons of the drama; thus his dragon would run down an incline on hidden wheels, be actuated by a rope, or be propelled by a rockets In 1613 at the marriage of the prince palatine to the daughter of James, the pyrotechnic display was confided to four of the king's gunners, who provided a fiery drama which included a giant, a dragon, a lady, St George, a conjurer, and an enchanted castle, jumbled up together after the approved fashion of the Spenserian legends.' As time went on a more refined taste rejected the bizarre features of the old displays, artistic merit began to creep into the designs, and an effort was made to introduce something appropriate to the occasion. Thus Clarmer of Nuremberg, a well-known fire-worker, celebrated the capture of Rochelle (1613) by an adaptation of the Andromeda legend, where Rochelle was the rock, Andromeda the Catholic religion, the monster Heresy, and Perseus on his Pegasus the all-conquering Louis XIII. 8 In the first half of the 17th century many books 9 on fireworks appeared, which avoided the old grotesque ideas and advocated skill and finesse. " It is a rare thing," says Nye 1 J. B. Nichols & Sons, London Pageants. 2 Hall's Chronicles. 3 J. Bate. :Mysteries of Nature and Art (1635). This contains a picture of afgreen man.

4 Geschichte des Feuerwerkswesen (Berlin, 1887). The Jubilee pamphlet of the Brandenberg Artillery.

5 See " Fairholts' Collection " bequeathed to the Royal Society of Antiquaries.

s Journal of the Royal Artillery, vol. xxxii. No. 11.

7 Somers' Tracts, vol. iii. 8 De Frezier.

9 Diego Ufano, Artillery, in Spanish (1614); Master Gunner Norton, The Gunner and The Gunner's Dialogue (1628); F. de Malthe (Malthus), Artificial Fireworks, in French and English (1628); " Hanzelet," Recueil de plusieurs machines militaires et feux artificiels pour la guerre et recreation (1620 and 1630); Furttenback, master gunner of Bavaria, Halinitro P yr obolio ,in German (1627);(John Babington Matross, Pyrotechnia, 1635); Nye, master gunner of Worcester, Art of Gunnery (Worcester, 2648); Casimir Siemienowitz, lieut.-general of the Ordnance to the king of Poland, The Great Art of Artillery, in French (1650).

(1648), " to represent a tree or fountain in the air." The most celebrated work of them all was the Great Art of Artillery by Siemienowitz, which was considered important enough to be translated into English by order of the Board of Ordnance, nearly eighty years after it had appeared. 10 The classic façade now came into fashion; on it and about it were placed emblematic figures, and disposed around were groups of rockets, Roman candles, &c., musket barrels for projecting stars, and mortars from which were fired shells called balloons, which were full of combustibles. The figures were carved out of wood which was soaped or waxed over and covered with papier mache so that a skin was formed: this was cut vertically into two parts, removed from the wood, formed into a hollow figure, and filled with fireworks.

National fireworks now assumed a stately and dignified appearance, and for two centuries played a conspicuous part all over Europe in the public expression of thanksgiving or of triumph. Representations and sometimes accounts will be found in the British Museum 11 of the more important English displays, from the coronation of James II. down to the peace rejoicings of 1856, during which period national fireworks were provided by the officials of the Ordnance. But since the days of Ranelagh and Vauxhall fireworks have become a subject of private enterprise, and the triumphs of such firms as Messrs Brock or Messrs Pain at the Crystal Palace and elsewhere have been without an official rival. (J. R. J. J.) Modern Fireworks. - In modern times the art of pyrotechny has been gradually improved by the work of specialists, who have had the advantage of being guided by the progress of scientific chemistry and mechanics. As in all such cases, however, science is useless without the aid of practical experience and acquired manual dexterity.

Many substances have a strong tendency to combine with oxygen, and will do so, in certain circumstances, so energetically as to render the products of the combination (which may be solid matter or gas) intensely hot and luminous. This is the general cause of the phenomenon known as fire. Its special character depends chiefly on the nature of the substances burned and on the manner in which the oxygen is supplied to them. As is well known, our atmosphere contains oxygen gas diluted with about four times its volume of nitrogen; and it is this oxygen which supports the combustion of our coal and candles. But it is not often that the pyrotechnist depends wholly upon atmospheric oxygen for his purposes; for the phenomena of combustion in it are too familiar, and too little capable of variation, to strike with wonder. Two cases, however, where he does so may be instanced, viz. the burning of magnesium powder and of lycopodium, both of which are used for the imitation of lightning in theatres. Nor does the pyrotechnist resort much to the use of pure oxygen, although very brilliant effects may be produced by burning various substances in glass jars filled with the gas. Indeed, the art could never have existed in anything like its present form had not certain solid substances become known which, containing oxygen in combination with other elements, are capable of being made to evolve large volumes of it at the moment it is required. The best examples of these solid oxidizing agents are potassium nitrate (nitre or saltpetre) and chlorate; and these are of the first importance in the manufacture of fireworks. If a portion of one of these salts be thoroughly powdered and mixed with the correct quantity of some suitable combustible body, also reduced to powder, the resulting mixture is capable of burning with more or less energy without any aid from atmospheric oxygen, since each small piece of fuel is in close juxtaposition to an available and sufficient store of the gas. All that is required is that the liberation of the oxygen from the solid particles which contain it shall be started by the application of heat from without, and the 10 Translated by George Shelvocke, 1727, by order of the surveyorgeneral of the Ordnance.

1144 Crace Collection " in the print-room; the King's Prints and Drawings in the library. See also " The Connection of the Ordnance Department with National and Royal Fireworks," R. A. Journal, vol. xxii. No. i 1.

action then goes on unaided. This, then, is the fundamental fact of pyrotechny - that, with proper attention to the chemical nature of the substances employed, solid mixtures (compositions or fuses) may be prepared which contain within themselves all that is essential for the production of fire.

If nitre and potassium chlorate, with other salts of nitric and chloric acids and a few similar compounds, be grouped together as oxidizing agents, most of the other materials used in making firework compositions may be classed as oxidizable substances. Every composition must contain at least one sample of each class: usually there are present more than one oxidizable substance, and very often more than one oxidizing agent. In all cases the proportions by weight which the ingredients of a mixture bear to one another is a matter of much importance, for it greatly affects the manner and rate of combustion. The most important oxidizable substances employed are charcoal and sulphur. These two, it is well known, when properly mixed in certain proportions with the oxidizing agent nitre, constitute gunpowder; and gunpowder plays an important part in the construction of most fireworks. It is sometimes employed alone, when a strong explosion is required; but more commonly it is mixed with one or more of its own ingredients and with other matters. In addition to charcoal and sulphur, the following oxidizable substances are more or less employed: - many compounds of carbon, such as sugar, starch, resins, &c.; certain metallic compounds of sulphur, such as the sulphides of arsenic and antimony; a few of the metals themselves, such as iron, zinc, magnesium, antimony, copper. Of these metals iron (cast-iron and steel) is more used than any of the others. They are all employed in the form of powder or small filings. They do not contribute much to the burning power of the composition; but when it is ignited they become intensely heated and are discharged into the air, where they oxidize more or less completely and cause brilliant sparks and scintillations.

Sand, potassium sulphate, calomel and some other substances, which neither combine with oxygen nor supply it, are sometimes employed as ingredients of the compositions in order to influence the character of the fire. This may be modified in many ways. Thus the rate of combustion may be altered so as to give anything from an instantaneous explosion to a slow fire lasting many minutes. The flame may be clear, smoky, or charged with glowing sparks. But the most important characteristic of a fire - one to which great attention is paid by pyrotechnists - is its colour, which may be varied through the different shades and combinations of yellow, red, green and blue. These colours are imparted to the flame by the presence in it of the heated vapours of certain metals, of which the following are the most important: - sodium, which gives a yellow colour; calcium, red; strontium, crimson; barium, green; copper, green or blue, according to circumstances. Suitable salts of these metals are much used as ingredients of fire mixtures; and they are decomposed and volatilized during the process of combustion. Very often the chlorates and nitrates are employed, as they serve the double purpose of supplying oxygen and of imparting colour to the flame.

fire and green stars:-

Tourbillion.

Green Stars.

Meal gunpowder. .

24 parts.

Potassium chlorate

16 parts.

Nitre .

I

Barium nitrate

48

Sulphur

7

Sulphur .

12 „

Charcoal .

4

Charcoal .

I „

Steel filings

8

Shellac. .

5

Calomel .

8

Copper sulphide .

2

The number of fire mixtures actually employed is very great, for the requirements of each variety of firework, and of almost each size of each variety, are different. Moreover, every pyrotechnist has his own taste in the matter of compositions. They are capable, however, of being classified according to the nature of the work to which they are suited. Thus there are rocketfuses, gerbe-fuses, squib-fuses, star-compositions, &c.; and, in addition, there are a few which are essential in the construction of most fireworks, whatever the main composition may be. Such are the starting-powder, which first catches the fire, the bursting-powder, which causes the final explosion, and the quickmatch (cotton-wick, dried after being saturated with a paste of gunpowder and starch), employed for connecting parts of the more complicated works and carrying the fire from one to another. Of the general nature of fuses an idea may be had from the following two examples, which are selected at hazard from among the numerous recipes for making, respectively, tourbillion Although the making of compositions is of the first importance, it is not the only operation with which the pyrotechnist has to do; for the construction of the cases in which they are to be packed, and the actual processes of packing and finishing, require much care and dexterity. These cases are made of paper or pasteboard, and are generally of a cylindrical shape. In size they vary greatly, according to the effect which it is desired to produce. The relations of length to thickness, of internal to external diameter. and of these to the size of the openings for discharge, are matters of extreme importance, and must always be attended to with almost mathematical exactness and considered in connexion with the nature of the composition which is to be used.

There is one very important property of fireworks that is due more to the mechanical structure of the cases and the manner in which they are filled than to the precise chemical character of the composition, i.e. their power of motion. Some are so constructed that the piece is kept at rest and the only motion possible is that of the flame and sparks which escape during combustion from the mouth of the case. Others, also fixed, contain, alternately with layers of some more ordinary compositions, balls or blocks of a special mixture cemented by some kind of varnish; and these stars, as they are called, shot into the air, one by one, like bullets from a gun, blaze and burst there with striking effect. But in many instances motion is imparted to the firework as a whole - to the case as well as to its contents. This motion, various as it is in detail, is almost entirely one of two kinds - rotatory motion round a fixed point, which may be in the centre of gravity of a single piece or that of a whole system of pieces, and free ascending motion through the air. In all cases the cause of motion is the same, viz. that large quantities of gaseous matter are formed by the combustion, that these can escape only at certain apertures, and that a backward pressure is necessarily exerted at the point opposite to them. When a large gun is discharged, it recoils a few feet. Movable fireworks may be regarded as very light guns loaded with heavy charges; and in them the recoil is therefore so much greater as to be the most noticeable feature of the discharge; and it only requires proper contrivances to make the piece fly through the air like a sky-rocket or revolve round a central axis like a Catherine wheel. Beauty of motion is hardly less important in pyrotechny than brilliancy of fire and variety of colour.

The following is a brief description of some of the forms of firework most employed :- Fixed Fires. - Theatre fires consist of a slow composition which may be heaped in a conical pile on a tile or a flagstone and lit at the apex. They require no cases. Usually the fire is coloured - green, red or blue; and beautiful effects are obtained by illuminating buildings with it. It is also used on the stage; but, in that case, the composition must be such as to give no suffocating or poisonous fumes. Bengal lights are very similar, but are piled in saucers, covered with gummed paper, and lit by means of pieces of match. Marroons are small boxes wrapped round several times with lind cord and filled with a strong composition which explodes with a loud report. They are generally used in batteries, or in combination with some other form of firework. Squibs are straight cylindrical cases about 6 in. long, firmly closed at one end, tightly packed with a strong composition, and capped with touch-paper. Usually a little bursting-powder is put in before the ordinary composition, so that the fire is finished by an explosion. The character of the fire is, of course, susceptible of great variation in colour, &c. Crackers are characterized by the cases being doubled backwards and forwards several times, the folds being pressed close and secured by twine. One end is primed; and when this is lit the cracker burns with a hissing noise, and a loud report occurs every time the fire reaches a bend. If the cracker is placed on the ground, it will give a jump at each report; so that it cannot quite fairly be classed among the fixed fireworks. Roman candles are straight cylindrical cases filled with layers of composition and stars alternately. These stars are simply balls of some special composition, usually containing metallic filings, made up with gum and spirits of wine, cut to the required size and shape, dusted with gunpowder and dried. They are discharged like blazing bullets several feet into the air, and produce a beautiful effect, which may be enhanced by packing stars of differently coloured fire in one case. Gerbes are choked cases, not unlike Roman candles, but often of much larger size. Their fire spreads like a sheaf of wheat. They may be packed with variously coloured stars, which will rise 30 ft. or more. Lances are small straight cases charged with compositions like those used for making stars. They are mostly used in complex devices, for which purpose they are fixed with wires on suitable wooden frames. They are connected by leaders, i.e. by quick-match enclosed in paper tubes, so that they can be regulated to take fire all at the same time, singly, or in detachments, as may be desired. The devices and " set pieces " constructed in this way are often of an extremely elaborate character; and they include all the varieties of lettered designs, of fixed suns, fountains, palm-trees, waterfalls, mosaic work, Highland tartan, portraits, ships, &c.

Rotating Fireworks

Pin or Catherine wheels are long paper cases filled with a composition by means of a funnel and packingwire and afterwards wound round a disk of wood. This is fixed by a pin, sometimes vertically and sometimes horizontally; and the outer primed end of the spiral is lit. As the fire escapes the recoil causes the wheel to revolve in an opposite direction and often with considerable velocity. Pastiles are very similar in principle and construction. Instead of the case being wound in a spiral and made to revolve round its own centre point, it may be used as the engine to drive a wheel or other form of framework round in a circle. Many varied effects are thus produced, of which the firewheel is the simplest. Straight cases, filled with some fire-composition, are attached to the end of the spokes of a wheel or other mechanism capable of being rotated. They are all pointed in the same direction at an angle to the spokes, and they are connected together by leaders, so that each, as it burns out, fires the one next it. The pieces may be so chosen that brilliant effects of changing colour are produced; or various fire-wheels of different colours may be combined, revolving in different planes and different directions - some fast and some slowly. Bisecting wheels, plural wheels, caprice wheels, spiral wheels, are all more or less complicated forms; and it is possible to produce, by mechanism of this nature, a model in fire of the solar system.

Ascending Fireworks

Tourbillions are fireworks so constructed as to ascend in the air and rotate at the same time, forming beautiful spiral curves of fire. The straight cylindrical case is closed at the centre and at the two ends with plugs of plaster of Paris, the composition occupying the intermediate parts. The fire finds vent by six holes pierced in the case. Two of these are placed close to the ends, but at opposite sides, so that one end discharges to the right and the other to the left; and it is this which imparts the rotatory motion. The other holes are placed along the middle line of what is the under-surface of the case when it is laid horizontally on the ground; and these, discharging downwards, impart an upward motion to the whole. A cross piece of wood balances the tourbillion; and the quick-match and touch-paper are so arranged that combustion begins at the two ends simultaneously and does not reach the holes of ascension till after the rotation is fairly begun. The sky-rocket is generally considered the most beautiful of all fireworks; and it certainly is the one that requires most skill and science in its construction. It consists essentially of two parts, - the body and the head. The body is a straight cylinder of strong pasted paper and is choked at the lower end, so as to present only a narrow opening for the escape of the fire. The composition does not fill up the case entirely, for a central hollow conical bore extends from the choked mouth up the body for three-quarters of its length. This is an essential feature of the rocket. It allows of nearly the whole composition being fired at once; the result of which is that an enormous quantity of heated gases collects in the hollow bore, and the gases, forcing their way downwards through the narrow opening, urge the rocket up through the air. The top of the case is closed by a plasterof-Paris plug. A hole passes through this and is filled with a fuse, which serves to communicate the fire to the head after the body is burned out. This head, which is made separately and fastened on after the body is packed, consists of a short cylindrical paper chamber with a conical top. It serves the double purpose of cutting a way through the air and of holding the garniture of stars, sparks, crackers, serpents, gold and silver rain, &c., which are scattered by bursting fire as soon as the rocket reaches the highest point of its path. A great variety of beautiful effects may be obtained by the exercise of ingenuity in the choice and construction of this garniture. Many of the best results have been obtained by unpublished methods which must be regarded as the secrets of the trade. The stick of the skyrocket serves the purpose of guiding and balancing it in its flight; and its size must be accurately adapted to the dimensions of the case. In winged rockets the stick is replaced by cardboard wings, which act like the feathers of an arrow. A girandole is the simultaneous discharge of a large number of rockets (often from one hundred to two hundred), which either spread like a peacock's tail or pierce the sky in all directions with rushing lines of fire. This is usually the final feat of a great pyrotechnic display.

See Chertier, Sur les feux d'artifice (Paris, 1841; 2nd ed., 1854) Mortimer, Manual of Pyrotechny (London, 1856); Tessier, Chimie pyrotechnique, ou traite pratique des feux coloues (Paris, 1858); Richardson and Watts, Chemical Technology, s.v. " Pyrotechny " (London, 1863-1867); Thomas Kentish, The Pyrotechnist's Treasury (London, 1878); Websky, Luftfeuerwerkkunst (Leipzig, 1878).

(0. M.)


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