The Chemistry of Firework Colors

Fireworks have long been a part of our culture, mainly for celebrating something. However, many people do not really know the history of fireworks or how they work. These beautiful explosions are one instance where chemistry affects our lives in a fairly anonymous manner.
The accidental discovery of gunpowder by a Chinese cook led to the invention of fireworks. The cook mixed three common kitchen ingredients: salt peter, charcoal, and sulphur. The invention of fireworks occured in China about 2,000 years ago. They were used to scare away evil spirits and for prayer. The Chinese were very appreciative of this visual phenomenon that fireworks create. Back then, the pyrotechnicians were respected because of their skill in mixing certain solutions to emit colors for dazzling displays.
Marco Polo is credited by some for bringing fireworks to Europe and starting the craze over fireworks. This craze further intensified when English royalty took a liking to fireworks displays. This was evident when King James II knighted the fire master who arranged his inauguration celebration. This introduction of gunpowder also ended medieval warfare and brought in a new age in warfare. Castle walls were now easily destroyed by cannon balls thanks to gunpowder.
More recently in the United States, fireworks are used primarily for commemorating important dates and holidays. One of these is the Fourth of July which celebrates our nation’s independence. Another local event is the Thunder over Louisville which takes place during the Derby Festival every spring. This thirty minute show draws about 800,000 people from all over the region.
Fireworks come in many different shapes and sizes. These range from personal home fireworks to professional use for spectators. Consumer fireworks can be detonated by an amateur fire- worker and do not pose much of a safety threat except for the few yards close to the explosion. Professional use fireworks, however, can be deadly if operated incorrectly. This is due to the fact that these fireworks require much more power to launch and detonate. Some different types of fireworks include: firecrackers, bottle rockets, Roman Candles, and torpedoes. There are many other forms of fireworks but those are the most common. In any event, caution should be used when any fireworks are in use.
Fireworks are made in factories and have a pretty basic composition. Generally you will find a tube filled with black powder in the firework. The tube is surrounded by stars, or metallic ions, and more black powder to help ignite the firework. When the firework explodes, the colors become vibrant in the sky.
Aerial fireworks take advantage of multi-break shells to form different shapes in the sky. The shells are built in a way so that the stars go into a certain direction after the intial explosion. This allows for dazzling formations and makes a professional show much more varied and spectacular.
Fireworks are still being upgraded and explored. In the future, fireworks will be even more spectacular and awe-inspiring. This ancient Chinese invention will never fail to amaze young and old people alike on important holidays and celebrations.