We’ve all been sucked into an internet rabbit hole at some point in our lives. Admit it, you must’ve been curious about how certain things came to be, and Googled the most random phrases. Maybe you’ve just Googled, “Who invented fireworks?” but don’t have the mental stamina to read the full history on Wikipedia.
To put your curiosity at rest, here’s a quick summary on the complete history of fireworks:
The Discovery of Firecrackers
Historians haven’t yet pinpointed the exact date when fireworks were discovered, but many believe that they first showed up during the second century B.C. Back then, people in Liuyang, China used bamboo stalks as natural firecrackers.These stalks would explode when exposed to fire because of their hollow air pockets. The air inside these stalks would overheat and the trapped hot air would expand and compress. However, since the air pockets were hollow, the air forced its way out and the bamboo stalk would explode.
Fast forward to 600-900 A.D., an alchemist in China tried to make a concoction out of saltpetre (potassium nitrate), charcoal, sulfur, and other ingredients. Historians believe that he was planning to create an elixir for immortality but to his surprise, he invented a form of gunpowder instead.
With this discovery, the Chinese figured out that when this early form gunpowder was stuffed into bamboo shoots, throwing them into the fire produced louder explosions than usual. And with that, the first man-made firecracker was invented.
The Evolution of Fireworks
Years after, the bamboo stalks that housed the gunpowder were soon replaced by paper tubes. Before this event, the Chinese used their firecrackers to ward off bad spirits. However, they found out that these exploding sticks could be used to liven up festivals and special events.
The Arrival of Fireworks in Europe
Centuries later, the Chinese gunpowder made its way to Europe. In the 13th century, Marco Polo, an Italian explorer and merchant, brought the gunpowder from his travels in Asia. Soon after, the recipe for making gunpowder followed.
While the gunpowder had also been used to manufacture explosive weapons back in China, the West figured out ways to develop stronger and more powerful weaponry with it. That said, the idea of using gunpowder for pyrotechnics, which was what the Chinese had originally intended, was further developed.
England rulers began using fireworks displays to entertain their subjects, and in a few years time, the earliest recorded royal fireworks display took place in 1486 during the wedding of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.
As the queen and everyone else then enjoyed the display so much, she crowned the title firemaster, which was used to describe someone who took charge of the displays. In 1685, King James II was so bedazzled by the work of his firemaster during his coronation, he knighted him afterwards.
From then on, fireworks displays have become increasingly popular. Today, fireworks can be used for all sorts of events. The most popular example of this is during New Year’s Eve when major cities worldwide put on majestic pyrotechnics shows for everyone’s entertainment.
Fireworks are part of human culture and tradition, but who would’ve thought that the existence of pyrotechnics dates way back to ancient China? Today, the use of fireworks to enchant crowds during events is still recognized. Surely enough, the magic of fireworks displays is not yet lost, and is sure to last a long, long time.
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