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Why Do We Celebrate the Fourth of July with Fireworks?

Chesapeake Curiosities

Founding father John Adams wanted to celebrate Independence Day July second rather than the fourth, but he was the visionary in celebrating with fireworks. The Adams family hosted huge Independence Day celebrations for generations.
    In a letter to his wife, Abagail Adams, on July 3, 1776, he wrote:
The Second Day of July 1776, will … be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.
    Fourth of July fireworks displays became the standard in the 1880s.
    The first fireworks are believed to have been made in China around 2,000 years ago, when gunpowder stuffed into bamboo was detonated. Ever since, people have been fascinated by their magic. Fireworks were especially popular in Renaissance Europe, when royalty set them off to punctuate celebrations.
    In 1608 Captain John Smith set off the first fireworks display on Chesapeake Bay to impress Native Americans.
    Today’s fireworks are complicated affairs with each color created by a mix of chemicals. Copper burns blue. Strontium salts and lithium salts burn red. Sodium burns yellow. Calcium burns orange. Barium burns green. Charcoal and lampblack burn gold. Magnesium, aluminum and titanium burn white or silver.
    Setup for large fireworks displays like the ones in Annapolis, Chesapeake Beach or Solomons can take days. Each display is carefully choreographed and timed. It takes years to master the skills to pull off a dazzling show. Fireworks can also be extremely dangerous, so leave it to the pros to handle the light show this year.
    See page 12 for a listing of this year’s local fireworks, with some falling before July 4, which would please John Adams.


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