As you may know, fireworks were invented by the Chinese thousands of years ago – around 200 B.C. Those first fireworks were bamboo shoots filled with gunpowder, which was probably quite cool back then… but we’ve come a long way since!
These days, fireworks are intricate displays of chemistry and human ingenuity. The most impressive shows take all year to plan and create… and then they’re gone in a flash.
Now, some of you may prefer to believe fireworks are magic. If so, stop reading now! But if you’re super curious too, then join us as we unravel the mystery of these brilliant, fleeting works of art…
First things first: What’s in a firework?
Before we go further, let’s clarify: We’re talking about the big fireworks that light up the night sky on New Year’s Eve and the 4th of July. There are tons of different types out there – some go bang, others scream loudly, and some just fizzle – but the most fascinating are those that can shoot into the sky and explode into a flurry of color.
To do that, you need to consider four things:
- How to get it into the sky.
- How to make it explode.
- How to color the firework.
- How to make the firework unique.
Before we get into each step, we need to cover the most important element of our firework: the part that goes BOOM!
Black powder: The basis of every firework
In order to both launch your firework and get it to explode, you need something that acts as a Fuel and an Oxidizer.
For hundreds of years, we’ve been using black powder for this purpose. It’s perfect because it contains Potassium Nitrate (the oxidizer) along with Charcoal and Sulfur (the fuel).
We’ll use this black powder as the basis to both launch our firework and give it its effects.
Step 1: Launching your firework
To get into the sky, you’ll need a mortar and something called a lift charge.
A mortar is a tube that keeps the firework in place as it leaves the ground. It also gives the firework a direction to go: up!
A lift charge is a pocket of black powder that sits at the bottom of your firework. It’s separate from the main firework (or else the whole thing would explode on the ground).
When the lift charge is ignited, a mini explosion propels the firework into the air.
Step 2: Making your firework burst
Alright, now your firework is hurtling into the sky. Awesome! Now, to make it explode, you have two options:
- Use a fuse.
- Use a computer.
Naturally, option #1 has been in use for a lot longer than #2.
A fuse simply lights when the lift charge explodes. While the firework travels into the air, the fuse burns down – finally reaching the giant pocket of black powder in the main component. This sets off the firework – so the trick is to create a fuse that burns just long enough to end when the firework is at its height.
On the other hand, computer-timed fireworks are a modern innovation that involve a timed blast charge in the firework itself. They remove the guesswork and give more control to the person operating the firework display, but naturally can be more expensive.
Alright! So you’ve launched a firework into the air and you’ve caused it to explode at the perfect time. But wait… why is the result so underwhelming?
Oh, right. We forgot to add colors…
Step 3: Adding color and flair to your fireworks
Naturally, a big ball of black powder will explode, but it won’t look very cool. That’s where metals come in!
When you add metals like copper and stronium, you get all sorts of colors. For example, copper burns blue; stronium gives a red color; barium creates green; and magnesium causes the firework to sparkle.
Yup – that means you can identify the contents of a firework just by looking at its explosion!
So, now you have a cool-looking firework that functions properly. This will work… until, of course, your neighbor designs a cooler one – and then they’ve stolen the show.
Yeah. You probably didn’t realize it, but the firework industry is extremely competitive. That’s why you need to constantly innovate…
Step 4: Making your firework unique
Now, nobody’s going to complain about a classic “ball style” firework. It explodes, makes some sparkles, and is undeniably a firework.
However, when it comes to New Year’s Eve or the 4th of July, we have lots of choice… and limited time. That’s why firework makers are constantly creating new designs and concepts, even within the firework itself.
This is where the European-style cylinder firework comes into play. These fireworks include multiple layers, allowing them to display different effects at different times. Some may whistle as they soar, or leave a trail of sparkles behind them; others may explode in multiple stages or different shapes.
There you have it – your own working, customizable firework! As you can see, the possibilities are quite broad, and the innovation in this department keeps on growing… so we can expect each year’s display to be more spectacular than the last.
Happy New Year!