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Light Up: The Business of Fireworks

The 1,000-year-old art of lighting up the skies.

Jasodhara Banerjee
Published: Nov 6, 2013 06:14:45 AM IST
Updated: Oct 31, 2013 04:26:13 PM IST
Light Up: The Business of Fireworks
Image: Bazuki Muhammad / Reuters

Fireworks are serious business around the world

1. The Chinese discovered gunpowder sometime in the 10th century and soon also developed the first fireworks—bamboo sticks filled with gunpowder. They used these in festivities and also to scare enemies.

2. Many countries have strict rules regarding the purchase and use of fireworks, ranging from complete bans, age restrictions on purchase and designated time periods for use. For instance, in Australia, firecrackers are illegal in the capital territory; while the Northern Territory allows them to be sold only to those above 18. Only small firecrackers, like sparklers, are allowed to be sold to the public. For anything larger, or airborne, users need to register. Public firework displays are conducted by licensed pyrotechnicians.

3. Different chemical elements add different colours to a firework. So, charcoal or iron produces gold, copper blue, sodium yellow and calcium orange.

4. Firework displays to celebrate the new year have been a lasting practice in many countries. In China, fireworks are part of celebrations accompanying the Spring Festival and Moon Festival, and, like in India, social occasions like marriages. In the UK, Guy Fawkes Day is celebrated with fireworks on November 5, to celebrate the arrest of Guy Fawkes, who had plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605.

5. Abu Dhabi claims to hold the record for the largest and most expensive firework display, by putting up a show worth $20 million in 2009, to celebrate the UAE’s 37th National Day on December 2.

6. The US celebrates its independence day on July 4 with fireworks. On July 3, 1776, John Adams—one of America’s Founding Fathers and the first vice president—wrote to his wife that Independence Day should be a “great annual festival”. The following year, the Congress ordained the tradition, with fireworks representing the 13 states of the country.

7. New Year’s Eve is celebrated with spectacular firework displays in Sydney and London. The Sydney Harbour Bridge event draws more than a million live viewers, and is viewed by close to a billion more from around the world on TV. In London, where celebrations take place along the Thames, fireworks are launched from the London Eye. The cost of the event can be estimated from the fact that reducing its duration from 10 minutes to 8 minutes in 2010, reduced costs by £70,000.

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(This story appears in the 15 November, 2013 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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