Happy Fourth of July!
In a letter to his wife in 1776, John Adams, the second President of the United States of America, wrote that the Declaration of Independence should be marked by “…Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations…” John Adams would probably feel a bit disappointed with the downsizing of fireworks spectacles all across the US in recent years. Modern Americans are a bit dismayed with the cutting down of fireworks displays since July 4th does not seem complete without it. Even the blockbuster alien-invasion movie, “Independence Day” (1996) or “ID4” in popular parlance had “fireworks” at the end.
Rooted in tradition
At the first Independence Day anniversary in 1777, Congress celebrated with “a grand exhibition of fireworks” in addition to the traditional firing of artillery, muskets, and explosives. Thirteen rockets were fired in Philadelphia as Congress celebrated The Fourth in honor of the 13 nations that made up the United States then. The skies of Boston were also lit up with colorful displays that year. Gradually, the practice spread.
During the centennial celebration in 1876, set pieces started becoming popular. Fireworks were attached on huge platforms. New York became especially known for the most fabulous fireworks displays on Independence Day.
The 19th century saw a surge in the popularity of fireworks and firecrackers. There was one disadvantage, though. Residents of American cities suffered through many terrible fires due to excessive fireworks and firecracker use. Noise was another major concern and by the turn of the 20th century the authorities also started focusing on the number of casualties from ill-advised use of fireworks and firecrackers.
There was a time when, after recognizing the dangers and risks associated with the fiery light displays, some cities sought bans and replaced unorganized fireworks use with contests, sports, and musical performances. “Safer” celebrations soon became the norm. City leaders made the move to sponsor official fireworks spectacles to draw the crowds and lessen injuries and incidental fires.
“The rockets’ red glare”
The American fascination for fireworks is really not that difficult to understand. After all, “The Star Spangled Banner,” has a line that highlights this fascination: “And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air.” Francis Scott Key who wrote the anthem may have been referring to a particular battle in 1812, but the line also recalls the familiar lights and explosions in the night sky of every July 4 celebration.
Legal or not
But, before getting all fired up and preparing your own fireworks display for this year’s Independence Day celebration, there’s one thing you need to know. Are fireworks legal where you reside?
As of June 1, 2013, the following states allow some or all types of consumer fireworks: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia. The following states only allow sparklers and/or other novelty fireworks: Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, and Vermont. In the meantime, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York ban all consumer fireworks.