Whether you are taking in a computer-controlled display show or simply lighting some effects in the backyard with friends, today’s fireworks are nothing short of spectacular. Modern technology has created a multi-billion dollar global industry dedicated to fireworks that are both mind-blowing and reasonably safe (as long as proper protocols are followed). But the history of fireworks is packed with twists, turns, accidents, and mistakes. Here are 4 fun facts from the history of these holiday staples.
Did you know that the first fireworks were a complete accident? Sometime around 200 BC, a now unknown person in China decided to throw green bamboo on his fire. It crackled and popped, and eventually exploded. The ancient Chinese believed heavily in evil spirits, and used a variety of methods to ward them off. The tremendous noise of bursting bamboo soon caught on as a powerful ward against spirits. Burning green bamboo became a popular way to encourage luck on the Lunar New Year, and the practice soon spread to all sorts of joyous events such as weddings and births.
Immortality and Accidental Black Powder
In the 9th century AD, Chinese alchemists were on a quest to develop an immortality potion. They stumbled across something they referred to as huo yao, or the “fire drug,” and soon realized that placing it inside green bamboo created a much more powerful explosion.
Huo yao was eventually refined into two separate products: black powder and gun powder. Besides a variety of military uses, this also set the stage for the first true fireworks.
Once black powder was discovered, the Chinese military began to explore its uses in warfare. Around 1200 AD, they learned that adding guidance fins to lightweight fireworks known as ground rats would create the first military rockets. And, of course, fireworks manufacturers worldwide were not to be outdone. Across the globe, military rockets informed the design of exciting new fireworks.
Walt Disney World’s Tribute to Exploding Fireworks Factories
During the Renaissance, sophisticated and artistic aerial fireworks were in high demand across Europe. Soon every kingdom had its own powderworks or fireworks factory. Of course, without modern safety protocols, these also exploded on a regular basis—a problem that sadly still exists today in some countries.
In 1989, Walt Disney World decided to pay tribute to these exploding powderworks as part of the backstory for the nighttime entertainment complex known as Pleasure Island. The complex was tied together with a cohesive story about an explorer named Merriweather Pleasure, who developed the island to support a new sail making enterprise in 1911. By 1924, though, the energetic explorer had amassed a collection of exotic imports from across the globe and moved on to a new pastime: fireworks fabrication. Unfortunately, Pleasure was a pipe smoker, and it was only a matter of time before a stray spark from his pipe caused a massive explosion in his fireworks factory.
Merriweather Pleasure’s story continued with more and more unlikely adventures until he was eventually lost at sea in 1941. By 1955, his family was bankrupt, and the island was abandoned. It sat crumbling until 1987, when Disney decided to redevelop it as an entertainment complex, turning the old buildings into a collection of shops, restaurants, and nightclubs. Fittingly, the old fireworks factory became a BBQ restaurant known as The Fireworks Factory, complete with damaged brick walls.
This flight of fancy made a great backstory, but it is interesting that Disney chose to incorporate the all too real danger of fireworks factory explosions into the narrative for a fun entertainment complex. Sadly, Pleasure Island closed in 2008, and has been completely redeveloped beyond recognition.
At Dynamite Fireworks, we don’t only sell top-quality, name-brand fireworks. We also provide the information you need to know to use them responsibly, legally, and safely. If you have any questions or concerns, give us a call at (219) 937-4090. We look forward to becoming your one-stop shop for all your fireworks needs!