Monday, July 2, 2007


People have loved fireworks ever since it was discovered, 2,200 years ago, that when you mix 75% saltpeter, 15% charcoal, and 10% sulfur, you get an explosion. Chinese, Arabs, and Indian Buddhists all lay claim to the invention. I love fireworks not only because they’re fun to light and watch, there’s lots of stats and history behind them.

For example, in the UK in 1605 Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament with 36 barrels of gunpowder placed in the cellars of Westminster Hall. On November 5th, Fawkes was arrested and Parliament was saved. Today Brits celebrate the event with a four week Bonfire Night firework season.

Fireworks go way back to the beginning of the USA, having been part of the very first Independence Day celebration in 1777, six years before the Americans won the Revolutionary War.

Today fireworks are so popular that there is even a World Pyro Olympics, which for five days features the greatest fireworks displays in the world.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us know that fireworks aren’t safe when mishandled, duh. Sparklers, which do not blow up and do not have trajectory, can burn at temperatures up to 1,800 degrees, hot enough to melt gold. Fireworks cause 9 out of 100,000 emergency room visits of children aged 5-14, which makes them safer than pens and pencils, which cause 35, skateboards, which cause 126, and bicycles, which cause 847.

That’s probably why New York , Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Delaware are among states that completely ban all consumer fireworks, although it doesn’t explain why they haven’t also banned bicycles – or cars for that matter. But this hasn’t stopped China from exporting annually to the US 120,000 tons of fireworks.

Fireworks used to be just yellow and orange. But pyrotechnic chemists discovered ways of displaying all the colors of the rainbow. To make red, add strontium, gold iron, white magnesium, green barium, and blue copper. I wonder what the EPA says about all this! Actually I don’t really care, the air might have a little metal in it but the fireworks are worth it.

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