After black powder was discovered by the Chinese in the 9th Century, the relatively short history of fireworks began with this explosive chemical composition. Black powder is made up of potassium nitrate, sulfur, and charcoal (KNO3); in the correct amounts, this combination has very explosive results. The use of black powder sprung forth the evolution of muskets, rockets, and fireworks. Although history has shown that the development of black powder muskets into modern day guns, artillery, and weapons of mass destruction have changed the face of the earth, taken many lives, and changed the outcome of many wars, black powder is also used in many rituals and celebrations.
While traveling the globe, Marco Polo, fascinated by this black powder, brought it back to the West were it soon caught on. In Rome, King Charles V used fireworks to celebrate a victory. The fireworks were developed and made by his “fire workers” who made leaps and bounds with the projectiles and rocket shape of the fireworks. These elaborate demonstrations of fire soon spread through Europe and pleased many spectators of the King and Queens Court.
In the middle ages, Italy and Germany took their displays to another level, incorporating different colors and effects. In Italy, the firework displays were used to accentuation buildings and structures, while in Germany, the focus was more on the fireworks themselves. The name "green men" was coined on account of the people who would cover themselves in leaves to protect their body from sparks and ashes as they launched fireworks from their hands.
As music grew and became a large part of society, the incorporation of music and firework displays became inseparable. The most infamous of all fireworks displays, for this time period, was held by England in celebration of the peace treaty that ended the war of Austrian succession. This one thousand firework display was the biggest of its time; however, disastrous outcomes of this collaboration claimed the lives of two people and set fire to one females dress as the demonstration exploded before the show even started. Ironically, this catastrophic set-up was used as a model for the 1981 commemoration of the marriage between Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. As music and fireworks progressed, the synchronized union between the fireworks display and a soundtrack was established. The French were the first to coordinate this masterpiece in Cannes, 1960.
Today, fireworks are a multimillion dollar industry,
producing over one million large ordinance fireworks per year. With modern
technology, live video feed of demonstrations around the world link one
unique display to the next. With the push to be the most original and unique,
the future of firework displays are uncharted. The colors and effects most
often seen today are inventions of this century. A major example is the
development of colored displays. Before the 19th century, only various
yellows and oranges could be produced with steel and charcoal. Basic reds
and greens were added to the displays with the invention of chlorates along
with good blues and purples late this century.