Fireworks. There’s something magical about them. As the clock strikes midnight on 31 December half the world starts to celebrate the arrival of the New Year. There are parties and myriads of fireworks, both public and in the gardens of private homes. Few people can resist the wonderful displays and gasp with amazement at some of the innovations. Since there are 38 different time zones, Australia is one of the first countries to celebrate.
Origin of Fireworks
Fireworks were indeed first known in medieval China around the ninth century. At first they scared away evil spirits. They then attached rockets to arrows as a weapon. Thereafter they perfected the use of rockets as weapons without arrows. Subsequently the Chinese used them to celebrate the Chinese New Year.
Coloured fireworks first appeared in the 1830s using certain chemical ingredients. They can take many forms to produce three primary effects, that is noise, light and smoke. In Ireland and the US there are displays at Halloween. One of the biggest occasions in the UK is Guy Fawkes Night on 5 November. Fireworks and bonfires celebrate the foiling of a gunpowder plot on 5 November 1605. This refers to an attempt to assassinate King James I.
The New World
European firework technology spread to the New World. Captain John Smith, governor of the New England colonies, kept a diary. In it he records that in July 1608 “we fired a few rockets, which flying in the ayre terrified the poor Salvages. They supposed that nothing was impossible”. The first celebration of Independence Day in 1777 used fireworks. Thereafter there are celebrations every year on 4 July. Furthermore, in the US in 1789 George Washington’s inauguration was followed by a huge firework display.
Around the beginning of the eighteenth century fireworks became very popular in France. Louis IV (the Sun King), had many firework displays. The family of Gaetano Ruggieri, who arrived in France around 1739, put on a display at the request of King Louis XV. In 1743 Ruggieri became the official fireworks officer by the King. Indeed, even today there are huge displays to celebrate the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution. Also in Canada there is a Museum of Canadian History. Since August 2014 every year the public gather to enjoy a wonderful display of fireworks launched over the Ottawa River.
In 1749 King George II commissioned Handel to write ‘Music for the Royal Fireworks’. The show took place in Green Park in London. First Handel had an argument with the Duke of Montagu, responsible for the show. The King had specified that there should be no violins. Against his will, Handel had to obey. The orchestra had a special pavilion. Unfortunately for poor Handel it rained. Some of the fireworks didn’t go off, a rocket fell on the pavilion and set fire to one wing. Due to the general chaos, a woman’s dress caught fire and two soldiers were burned, another blinded. 12,000 people rushed to get to the park for the display, causing a 3-hour traffic jam of carriages on London Bridge. In other words, it was one of the least successful of Handel’s compositions, where chaos reigned.
Fireworks can be very dangerous and should only be handled by experts. Not only: buy only from authorized dealers. In 2013 over eleven thousand people were injured during the 4 July festivities in the US alone. In other countries many disasters are reported every 1 January. One particularly dangerous and illegal firework to be avoided at all costs is named ‘Bin Laden’ which has the effect of an exploding bomb. Firearms are also used in some countries for effect and can wound unsuspecting onlookers. On this note, Oldies News advises caution when buying fireworks. Lastly, and on a happier note, Oldies News wishes all its readers every happiness and prosperity in the coming year.