Fireworks. They are a staple in American culture. This form of entertainment has been around for centuries, however in the last 15 years it has become more vibrant because of technical advances. Synchronized to music they are a form of entertainment that can appease the masses. Today we look at something that is part of our history and is still a part of culture today.
Fireworks have been dated back to 12th century China. They were used to frighten spirits away and helped the people pray for prosperity. Fireworks have inspired many different technologies – mostly weaponry, but they have also been used to light up a battle or send signals to train conductors so they can stop the Iron horse and summon troops to a location.
Since fireworks can also be seen as a passive entertainment, they became a staple in celebrations. Birthdays, coronations, weddings or whatever the event, adding fireworks has always brought a symbol of hope and prosperity. The colorful explosions made the sky a canvas for each firework event.
In 1777, the Americas started using fireworks to celebrate their independence day. George Washington used fireworks in 1789 when he was inaugurated. Every year after, on July 4th the sky lights up with this beautiful, but dangerous event. It also celebrates many other events, like Canada Day, Victoria Day, Festival of Lights in India and the Chinese New Year.
Since fireworks can be dangerous – just ask Jay J Armes about that one – you must be certified to handle the explosives. The PGI – Pyrotechnics Guild International has training courses in becoming certified in this field. Of course, you also want to have Fire and Paramedic support around if there is ever an issue with a errant firework.
Because a firework can be volatile, you cannot just run down to the local store to get a Class 1.1 or 1.2G explosive. In the US, the Department of Transportation monitors the Classification of fireworks. Each country classifies these differently.
Fireworks can get very technical. We like the standard firework, but if you can put color or patterns to it, the experience makes it all that much better. Peony, Dahlia, Willow, Palm, Ring and Diadem are some of the shapes a firework can produce in the sky. It is a Chemistry of compounds like Lithium Carbonate to make Red, Potassium Nitrate to make Purple or Sodium Nitrate to make Yellow.
The technical aspect of fireworks can be just as cool as the fireworks themselves. Each year in the City I live in – Madison WI, we have an event called “Rhythm and Booms”. The fireworks show is claimed to be the biggest in the Midwest and is an event that even this year drew over 250 thousand.
The best part is that the fireworks are set up and controlled by computer, synchronizing the music and ignition sequence. Gucci used to run the fireworks show, but it was later changed to the non-profit Madison Fireworks Fund. This is a organization that sends proceeds to local childrens charities.
The computer connection to the fireworks is pretty straightforward. A program is created to monitor the timecode of the audio presentation. At certain times, each firework is launched into the air at certain heights and strengths. Even the firework shell has a computer chip in it to determine when to ignite the shell in the air.
Seattle had a firework show on January 1st 2008 that was halted because of a computer glitch. After investigation, they found a corrupt file on the computer caused the dispay to not work. The team rebooted the Windows machine twice to try and get the firework program to work, but ended up having to run the show manually because the program would not continue.
It’s interesting to see fireworks be so primitive, yet so technical for today. Reds, Greens, Blues in the shapes of clouds, bursts and even smilie faces synchronized to music and go off at the exact time they want it to. Makes you wonder what they have in store for future fireworks displays. Maybe even some branded fireworks – a Windows or Mac logo in the air, maybe?