They can be spectacular. In New York City, they exploded more than 22 tons of pyrotechnics a couple of years ago. Or they can be modest, a few minutes of “oooh” and “aaah” in small towns all across the country. Big or small, they reflect the pride Americans feel on their greatest patriotic holiday.
The celebration probably goes back to 1777, the first anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In Philadelphia they rang bells, fired guns – and lit what firecrackers they had. John Adams, the second President, wrote, “”It ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with…illuminations from one end of this continent to the other…”
Fireworks also evoke this line in the “Star Spangled Banner”: “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air…” Historically, fireworks were known more for their sound, creating a loud bang but not much color. In the 1830s, trace metals that burn at high temperatures became standard, and suddenly fireworks were a visual treat as well. Unfortunately, video doesn’t do them justice, but here’s a part of the 2010 July 4th show in New York: