I didn't actually watch any fireworks this year. Had a headache and actually tried to go to bed early, which was hard because my neighbors had some seriously loud fireworks. But I digress.
Friend of mine asked on Facebook how a Chinese invention became the biggest symbol of American Independence. So I did a little digging, as I often do.
First of all, there is some dissent about whether fireworks actually ARE a Chinese invention. Some credit India, others just a more general 'the Middle East'. The era of their invention seems to be fairly consistent, they were present in China as early as 400 B.C.
The first fireworks were actually just bamboo, which, when thrown in the fire makes popping noises due to the air pockets inside it as well as it's water content. Some say that it was believed to frighten off evil spirits.
At some point, an un-identified individual, experimenting with ingredients which some say was an attempt to discover the infamous elixir of life (others say it was simply a cooking accident) mixed saltpeter with other ingredients and discovered that it burned with a brightly colored flame and which, when stuffed into the aforementioned stalks of bamboo, made a loud explosion as well. Over time, the mixture and process were perfected and turned to uses such as warfare along with the more benign displays for celebrations and to ward off those aforementioned evil spirits.
The use soon spread, both for military and entertainment applications and by the time of the Renaissance in Europe, fireworks were so common a feature of celebrations among the nobility and royalty that Shakespeare mentioned them in his plays and history.com (read the article here says that "Czar Peter the Great of Russia arranged a five-hour pyrotechnic extravaganza to mark the birth of his son." Famous pieces of music from the era also incorporate both fireworks and cannons.
History.com identifies 1608 as the date of the first fireworks display in the New World, stating that the legend gives credit to Captain John Smith for the import. Apparently, Rhode Island had so many problems with mischievous fireworks users that it had to outlaw them; the website states that they " banned the “mischievous use of pyrotechnics” in 1731."