Most Americans know at least most of the larger details about how they came to celebrate July 4th as their Independence Day. Indeed, many countries, especially those that were former colonies, celebrate a day that marks the day they became their own country or formed a new government. In many places, these celebrations, much like the American celebration, are marked with lively parties and symbols of patriotism. Since 1777, Americans have celebrated their independence from Great Britain on July 4th, even if the truth of when Independence occurred is actually more complex than that.
Although July 4th is celebrated as Independence Day in America, it is interesting to note that in 1776, that seminal year in American history, not much particularly exciting happened. The original resolution to declare independence from Britain had taken place a month earlier, on June 7, 1776. The resolution was introduced not by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Ben Franklin, or George Washington, the men everyone thinks of as the Founding Fathers. but by a man named Richard Henry Lee, a delegate to the Continental Congress from Virginia.
It was not until 3 days later, on June 10, 1776 that a committee, led by Thomas Jefferson and including Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston, convened to begin writing the Declaration of Independence. In fact, the only thing of historical note that happened on July 4, 1776 was that it was adopted by the Continental Congress. No member or delegate had signed the document because it had not been delivered, and it was still, in large part, a secret from people not involved in the Congress. Indeed, the public did not get a look at the Declaration of Independence until the next day, after the Continental Congress had already voted. The first newspaper to publish it was the Pennsylvania Evening Post. They published it in their July 6th edition.
Unlike other American holidays, like Thanksgiving, which took a long time to develop and take hold among the general population, people began celebrating July 4th as Independence Day from the very beginning. Most people would agree that the fireworks are supposed to represent the bombs and the rockets used during the American Revolution. Today, many communities hold parades during the day and later display fireworks in the evening when the 4th of July rolls around. Such actions are meant to pay tribute to the founding fathers and the men who fought in the American Revolution. However, for many people, these parades don't just honor the Founding Fathers, but are also to honor all the men and women of the military.
There are other traditions associated with Independence Day that are not steeped in history or patriotism. One of these is the barbeque. Americans love a barbeque. It gives them a chance to be outside, right in the middle of summer, with friends and family, to eat food that they enjoy and drink a beer or two (or more). One thing that is very interesting is that, especially in the earlier years, there were many attempts to move the holiday, so that it would always fall on a weekend, like resolutions calling to make Independence Day the first or second Saturday in July.
These resolutions have always been wildly unpopular. Americans like their day off of work that usually falls in the middle of the week, and, more importantly, don't want an important piece of their history changed by people who think that a weekend celebration may be more convenient. Independence Day is an important American celebration. While it is primarily about American independence, it is also about celebrating American ideals of family and freedom and the type of country that they are still very much aspiring to be.
History of Fireworks
Many believe that the creation of fireworks happened quite by accident involving bamboo. Bamboo is a wood that has hollow air pockets inside; when this wood is heated, it can explode. In the seventh century, it is believed that one of more people in China had burned bamboo in some kind of outdoor fire and discovered the wood's explosive properties. Naturally, with an explosion, a loud sound soon followed and this scared nearby people in the area. Since loud noise is created when bamboo explodes and frightens people, it was also believed by some that fireworks had the ability to frighten off malevolent entities or spirits as well.
Modern day fireworks did not come into being until the invention of gunpowder. Ironically, gunpowder is also believed to have accidental beginnings. The discovery of gunpowder was later to be followed by the creation of TNT, smokeless gunpowder, nitroglycerin, and nitrocellulose. The invention of gunpowder, like fireworks, is attributed to China.
This discovery was made by Chinese alchemists as they conducted experiments with different ingredients in an attempt to develop an immortality elixir. By 1044 AD, gunpowder already had various nitrate levels ranging from 27 to 50 percent. In the twelfth century, gunpowder was powerful enough to break through cast iron. Historians assert that the real explosive power of gunpowder was discovered in 1280 AD when a large quantity of gunpowder caught on fire. Rockets and explosives, at first used in warfare and to frighten off evil spirits, were later used to propel fireworks into the air and for celebratory purposes. Nobility used fireworks at various celebrations throughout the country.
Fireworks Come to Europe
Famous explorers soon found out about the fireworks created in China. In the early 1290s, Marco Polo traveled to the country and returned to Italy with fireworks. The Italians appreciated the beauty of fireworks and began experimenting with them; they added different colors including gold and silver by putting in different chemicals in the fireworks that they created. Shells were also created by the Italians that would allow for fireworks to reach very high altitudes before exploding.
When King Henry VII got married in the late 1480s, it was the first time that fireworks were reportedly used in a celebration in England. Queen Elizabeth I came to appreciate fireworks greatly, so much so that she appointed a Fire Master of England during her reign. Fireworks were also put to use during the reign of the Holy Roman Emperor while Charles V was ruling; these displays were handled by fireworkers who would purposefully put on victory presentations.
Settlers arriving in the New World in the Western hemisphere also brought fireworks along with them. These fireworks were sometimes used to either frighten or impress the Native Americans and sometimes used for celebratory purposes. These fireworks were used to celebrate major events even before the conclusion of the Revolutionary War. Fireworks were used in 1777 when celebrating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, and they were used in various events from then on, including at the inauguration of George Washington in 1789.
Modern July 4th Fireworks
Fireworks are handled today by professional pyrotechnics. Individuals are certified and trained on the proper handling of thousands of different fireworks. There are rigid safety guidelines and regulations that have to be adhered to when using fireworks for the safety of all involved. When a firework presentation is planned, pyrotechnics work hand in hand with emergency personel and police officials to ensure that the presentation runs smoothly.
There are different chemicals used inside fireworks to produce the colors that blaze across the night sky. Fireworks producing blue colors contain copper materials; those that produce green colors contain chlorine and barium. White fireworks consist of aluminum and magnesium. Yellow fireworks are made of sodium compounds. Orange fireworks contain calcium salts. Silver fireworks contain aluminum and other burning metals. Purple fireworks have copper and strontium. Red fireworks contain lithium salts and strontium. Finally, gold fireworks are made up of charcoal and iron.
Today, in the United States the biggest consumer of firework products is the Walt Disney World theme park. In the late 1990s, the company was the very first to use compressed air to launch aerial fireworks instead of using gunpowder. Doing so offered improved display timing, height, and fewer fumes. Presently, the biggest annual firework display is offered at the Kentucky Derby Festival. Of course, the fourth of July is the day every year when the most fireworks are used across the nation. Many memorable firework displays have been witnessed in the skies on the 4th of July.