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Swish, Boom, Crackle

Every fourth of July, two questions come to my mind: what is the genesis of fireworks and how much does it cost to do the shows after nightfall. As I watched our hometown fireworks and captured these images, I set my mind to researching these questions.

Fireworks were discovered in...where else...China in the 2nd century BC. That is a VERY long time ago. The people of Liuyang discovered that hollow bamboo sticks would explode with a bang when thrown in fire. This became a popular antidote to...what else...evil spirits. This continued for centuries until about 600-900 AD when a Chinese alchemist mixed chemicals - potassium nitrate, sulphur, and charcoal - to produce gunpowder. The Chinese stuffed bamboo sticks with this black powder and birthed fireworks.

Fireworks made their journey westward to Europe where they became popular for religious and civil events. They arrived in the US on independence day in 1777. After ships fired a 13-gun salute (representing the original colonies) there was a grand display of fireworks over Philadelphia. The fireworks began and ended symbolically with 13 rockets. Afterwards, John Adams wrote this to his wife: "... It [independence day] ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” Boston, too, hosted a grand celebration with fireworks and in 1783 designated July 4th as an official holiday.

Here we are in 2019, 243 years after Adams declared his vision for generations to come, enjoying the fireworks and festivities of this year's independence day. Last year, 277M pounds of fireworks were used by consumers and 19M pounds for display purposes, resulting in over a billion dollars in revenue. Big numbers commensurate with the jaw-dropping visuals.

So, how much do the fireworks shows cost?

DC's fireworks display is the longest in the country at 35 minutes and cost 320k this year, 18.5% more than 2018 because, well, "yuge" is the operative word in town. A municipality display is about 25k on an average with larger ones coming in at about 100k. New York City has the nation's largest fireworks. The stats for this are mind-boggling - 3,000 shells each minute, 75,000 shells in all, 50 miles of cables, 1,600 lines of code to synchronize the display with music, 60 expert pyro-technicians, and 12 days to set up.

As I watched the sky light up, I noted all that is good about this nation and was thankful for the freedoms and opportunities we have. The most special treat was stepping out on our deck at 9:20pm and watching the fireworks from the comfort of our backyard. Plus, drones taking photographs and floating on the periphery of the fireworks added special intrigue to the night sky as we celebrated America's birthday.

Photographs are of our hometown fireworks as seen from our deck on July 4, 2019.

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