Fireworks, a Staple of the Fourth of July, Have Existed Far Longer Than the US

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Fireworks have been going off in major American cities and some suburban areas for much of June and as Independence Day approaches, the colorful bombs bursting in air have caused much ire to those trying to sleep at night.

New York Mayor Bill De Blasio promised to crack down on illegal fireworks across the city after a large uptick in complaints. Late last month, fed up residents drove past Gracie Mansion, the mayor's official residence, honking their horns in protest of the nightly nuisance plaguing cities across the country. De Blasio announced the formation of a new task force consisting of police officers and fire officials.

In New York City, possessing fireworks is illegal, but people often purchase them across the border in New Jersey or Pennsylvania, where there are fewer restrictions.

While fireworks can be a nuisance to some when not used properly, fireworks are permanently rooted in the American zeitgeist as a sign of patriotism. In fact, fireworks are as American as the immigrants who weaved the fabric of the nation.

As the U.S. celebrates its 244st birthday this year, revelers are likely to enjoy a spectacular display of fireworks lighting up the night sky, but the history of those bombs bursting in air is a complicated one.

The first fireworks date back more than 2,000 years to the days of the Han Dynasty in China, where researchers believe bamboo stalks were burned until they would explode and crackle.

The primitive pyrotechnics took a leap forward between 600 and 900 A.D. with the introduction of gunpowder and other minerals to the bamboo shoots that created more elaborate explosions the Chinese believed would ward off evil spirits.

For that purpose, they were lit up predominantly at special events like New Year celebrations and weddings.

As time went on, the pyrotechnics became much more sophisticated and were encased in paper tubes instead of bamboo.

Eventually, the fireworks were attached to arrows, which led to the world's first rockets.

Fireworks reached the West as world exploration caught on, becoming a popular item to be traded or used during eras of cultural diffusion. Both the Roman and British empires were known to have used them as well.

Historians believe it was Captain John Smith of England who first brought fireworks to the “New World” that would eventually become America. He is said to have put on a fireworks display in the Jamestown colony in 1608.

A year after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, America would have its first fireworks displays in Philadelphia and Boston amid the Revolutionary War.

Since then, the tradition has only grown, with fireworks shot off in both suburban neighborhoods and big cities like New York, Boston and Chicago.

The first displays were mainly just red and orange bursts, but that all changed in the 1830's when historians believe Italian immigrants smuggled colored fireworks into America as they came off ships at Ellis Island.


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