History of Fireworks

Many historians believe that fireworks originally were developed in the second century B.C. in ancient Liuyang, China. It is believed that the first natural "firecrackers" were bamboo stalks that when thrown in a fire, would explode with a bang because of the overheating of the hollow air pockets in the bamboo. The Chinese believed these natural "firecrackers" would ward off evil spirits.

Sometime during the period 600-900 AD, legend has it that a Chinese alchemist mixed potassium nitrate, sulfur and charcoal to produce a black, flaky powder – the first “gunpowder”.  This powder was poured into hollowed out bamboo sticks (and later stiff paper tubes) forming the first man made fireworks. 

Fireworks made their way to Europe in the 13th century and by the 15th century they were widely used for religious festivals and public entertainment. The Italians were the first Europeans to manufacture fireworks and European rulers were especially fond of the use of fireworks to “enchant their subjects and illuminate their castles on important occasions.”    


Early U.S. settlers brought their love of fireworks with them to the New World and fireworks were part of the very first Independence Day – a tradition that continues every 4th of July when we celebrate as John Adams had hoped “with pomp, parade….bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.” Americans' spirit of celebration continued to grow and in the late 18th century, politicians used displays to attract crowds to their speeches.

While July 4th is still the “big day”, Americans continue to use fireworks year-round to celebrate at festivals, special events, and sporting traditions such as the Olympics and Super Bowl.

Fireworks entertainment generates dollars as well as smiles. Thunder Over Louisville is one of the country’s largest fireworks displays and an economic study conducted by the Derby Festival determined that Thunder generates more than $56 million for the local economy.

But more than anything else, when you think of the fireworks, you think of the Fourth of July and the celebration of our country’s Independence. Fireworks have been with Americans since our nation’s beginning and that is why the APA will continue its work to Preserve and Promote an American Tradition!