The Explosive History of Fireworks

The birth of fireworks can be traced back to China during the Song dynasty (960-1279), but there is evidence that primitive Chinese firecrackers date back even further to the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) when people threw bamboo stems into a fire to produce an explosion with a loud sound.

It was during the Song dynasty, however, that people manufactured the first firecrackers comprising of tubes made from rolled sheets of paper containing gunpowder and a fuse. Coloured fireworks were developed through the application of chemical substances to create coloured smoke and fire, and in China pyrotechnicians were respected for their knowledge of complex techniques to produce firework displays.

The first documented use of fireworks in the UK was at the start of the Tudor period. At the wedding of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, England’s first firework display was used to celebrate the union of the long-sparring Yorkist and Lancastrian families, bringing peace after years of dynastic war.

It wasn’t until the reign of Queen Elizabeth I that the popularity of fireworks really skyrocketed. The Queen enjoyed them so much that she appointed an official ‘Fire Master of England’. As the most respected fireworks-maker in England, he took charge of all royal displays.

The use of pyrotechnic special effects was popular in Shakespeare’s time, with mentions of fireworks in a number of his plays. These effects experimented by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men would eventually burn down the first Globe Theatre in 1613, when a burning piece of wadding in a small cannon set fire to the thatched roof.

Many fireworks displays in modern times have rockets firing off in time with music, but it’s actually the Georgians we have to thank for the concept. It was George II who commissioned the era’s greatest composer, George Frideric Handel, to create a piece to accompany the fireworks celebrating the end of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1749.

According to Guinness World Records the biggest ever fireworks display was achieved by Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church of Christ) in the Philippines, who welcomed 2016 in with a display that lasted for 1 hour, 1 minute and 32.35 seconds. Although this was the biggest display, The Walt Disney Company is said to be the largest consumer of fireworks in the world, with an estimated $50 million spend a year on their displays.