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The Magical World of Fireworks

Introduction of Fireworks

A Brief History

Even before special occasions such as New Years Day, everyone has been preparing to launch the much-awaited light spectacle in the night sky the Fireworks. These amazing, magical fireworks never fail to excite and amaze people of all ages with its bombastic and sparkling display of color and light. But have you ever wondered how this magic works? When and where it was invented? And what components does it have to make it burst into different colors? Legend tells of a Chinese cook who accidentally spilled saltpeter into a cooking fire, producing an interesting flame. Saltpeter, an ingredient in gunpowder, was sometimes used as a flavoring salt. The other gunpowder ingredients, charcoal and sulfur, were also common in early fires. When the mixture was burned with a little flame, it exploded if it was enclosed in a bamboo tube. Rocket propulsion was common in warfare, as evidenced by the Huolongjing compiled by Liu Ji (13111375) and Jiao Yu (fl. c. 13501412).[8] In 1240 the Arabs acquired knowledge

of gunpowder and its uses from China. A Syrian named Hasan al-Rammah wrote of rockets, fireworks, and other incendiaries, using terms that suggested he derived his knowledge from Chinese sources, such as his references to fireworks as "Chinese flowers".[9][1] This surprising invention of gunpowder which appears to have happened about 2000 years ago, produced exploding firecrackers later during the Song dynasty (960-1279) by a Chinese monk named Li Tian, who lived near the city of Liu Yang in Hunan Province. These firecrackers were bamboo shoots filled with gunpowder. They were exploded with a loud noise known as "gung pow" or "bian pao" at the commencement of the New Year to scare away evil spirits. By the 15th century, fireworks were a traditional part of other celebrations, such as military victories and weddings. In 1110, a large fireworks display in a martial demonstration was held to entertain Emperor Huizong of Song (11001125) and his court. In 1240, the Arabs acquired knowledge of gunpowder and its uses from China. A Syrian named Hasan al-Rammah wrote of rockets and fireworks and coined the term "Chinese flowers".Arabians in the 7th century referred to rockets as Chinese arrows. Marco Polo was credited with bringing gunpowder to Europe in the 13th century. Most of the fireworks are made in the same way today as they were hundreds of years ago. However, some modifications have been made. In 2004, Disneyland in California starting launching fireworks using compressed air rather than gunpowder. Electronic timers were used to explode the shells. That was the first time the launch system was used commercially, allowing for increased accuracy in timing so that fireworks shows could be blended in with music, and reducing smoke and fumes from big displays.

Exploding firecracker A firecracker (cracker, noise maker, banger, or bunger) is a small explosive device primarily designed to produce a large amount of noise, especially in the form of a loud bang; any visual effect is incidental to this goal. They have fuses, and are wrapped in a heavy paper casing to contain the explosive compound. Firecrackers, along with fireworks, originated in China. Contents [show] History[edit] See also: History of gunpowder

An illustration of a fireworks display from the 16281643 edition of the Ming Dynasty novel Jin Ping Mei. The predecessor of the firecracker was a type of heated bamboo, used as early as 200 BC, that exploded when heated continuously. The Chinese name for firecrackers, baozhu, literally means "exploding bamboo."[2] After the invention of gunpowder, gunpowder firecrackers had a shape that resembled bamboo and produced a similar sound, so the name "exploding bamboo" was retained.[3] In traditional Chinese culture, firecrackers were used to scare off evil spirits. Contents of firecrackers Firecrackers are generally made of cardboard or plastic, with flash powder or black powder as the propellant. This is not always the case, however. Anything from match heads to lighter fluid have been used successfully in making firecrackers. The key to loud firecrackers, however, although in part lying in the propellant substance, is pressure. The entire firecracker must be very tightly packed in order for it to work best. Flash powder does not need to be packed tightly, however.

How firecrackers were made

Dyer Ball on firecrackers James Dyer Ball, in his book Things Chinese, has a detail description about the process and material used for making firecracker at the end of 19th century. At that time, firecrackers were made by women and children workers, using straw paper to make the body of the firecracker, while the fuse was made of bamboo paper imported from Japan, then stiffened with buckwheat paste. The bamboo paper was cut into strips of 14 inches (360 mm) long and 13 inches (8.5 mm) wide, laid on a table; a string of gunpowder was placed at the center with a hollow tube, then twisted up to make a piece of fuse. The firecracker tubes were made from pieces of straw paper wrapped around iron rods of various diameters then tightened with a special tool. 200 to 300 firecrackers were tied up in a bunch, then red clay was spread at the bottom of the bunch, and forced into each end of the firecracker with a punch; gunpowder was poured into it, then the other end was sealed with an awl by turning the tube inward, and a fuse inserted.[4]


Two men dressed as colonial soldiers carry a banner, exploding firecrackers, commemorating Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators as part of Lewes Bonfire Night celebrations. Firecrackers are commonly used in celebration of holidays or festivals, such as Chinese New Year, Halloween,Independence Day (also known as the 4th of July) in the United States of America, Diwali in India, Tihar in Nepal, Day of Ashura in Morocco, Guy Fawkes Night or bonfire night in the United Kingdom, Skyfest in Ireland, Bastille day in France, and Spanish Fallas, in almost every cultural festival of Sri Lanka (e.g. Sri Lankan new year), and New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, Purim in Israel, and especially the celebration of Chinese New Year by Chinese communities around the world. Legality of firecrackers Firecrackers, as well as other types of explosives, are subject to various laws in many countries, although firecrackers themselves are not usually considered illegal contraband material. It is usually the manufacture, sale, storage, and use of firecrackers that are subject to laws including safety requirements for manufacture, the requirement of a permit to sell or store, or restrictions on the use of firecrackers. Firecracker ban The use of firecrackers, although a traditional part of celebration, has over the years led to many injuries. There have been incidents every year of users being blinded, losing body parts, or suffering other injuries, especially during festivities that customarily involve firecrackers such as

Chinese New Year season. Hence, many governments and authoritarians have enacted laws completely banning the sale or use of firecrackers, or banning the use of firecrackers in the street, primarily because of safety issues.

Australia Australia, with the exception of its capital territory (ACT) and the Northern Territory, does not permit the use of fireworks, except by a licensed pyrotechnician. These rules also require a permit from local government, as well as any relevant local bodies such as maritime or aviation authorities (as relevant to the types of fireworks being used) and hospitals, schools, et cetera, within a certain range.

Canada - Firecrackers are not authorized under the Explosives Act, thus making importation, possession, transportation, storage, or manufacturing illegal in Canada.[5] Canada banned firecrackers on September 27, 1972 after it came out in the media that two children were killed and three others severely burned when some older children were playing with firecrackers outside their tent. False rumours have been spread that the children inside the tent had actually been smoking and, not wanting to tell their parents, had told them they had been playing with firecrackers. This report is incorrect. One of the surviving burn victims has researched and documented the events of that night and has included some of these details in his autobiography.[7] Fireworks, however are still legal to buy for anyone 18 years of age or over.

Mainland China As of 2008, most urban areas in mainland China permit firecrackers. In the first three days of the traditional New Year, it is a tradition that people compete with each other by playing with firecrackers. However, many urban areas banned them in the 1990s. For example, they were banned in Beijing's urban districts from 1993 to 2005. In 2004, 37 people were killed in a stampede when four million[9] people gathered for a rumored Lantern Festival firework display in nearby Miyun. Since the ban was lifted, the firecracker barrage has been tremendous. An unusual feature is that many residents in major cities look down on street-level fireworks from their tower blocks. Bans are rare in rural areas.

Hong Kong Fireworks are banned for security reasons some speculate a connection between firework use and the 1967 Leftist Riot. However, the government would stage a fireworks display in Victoria Harbour on the second day of the Chinese New Year. Similar displays are also held in many other cities in and outside China.

Indonesia Firecrackers and fireworks are forbidden in public during the Chinese New Year, especially in areas with significant non-Chinese population to avoid conflict between the two. However, there were some exceptions. The usage of firecrackers is legal in some metropolitan areas such as Jakarta andMedan, where the degree of racial and cultural tolerance is higher.

Italy Firecrackers are legal and can be bought without a licence. Malaysia firecrackers are banned for similar reasons as in Singapore. However, many Malaysians smuggle them from Thailand.

Norway - The government of Norway decided to ban rockets shortly after 2009 started. Other types of fireworks are still allowed. Philippines Fireworks and firecrackers are widely available throughout the Philippines, but are banned in Olongapo City (since 2008)[11] and Davao City(since 2001).

Republic of Ireland - Fireworks and firecrackers are not permitted in the Republic of Ireland however many people smuggle them from Northern Ireland where they are legal. They are most common around Halloween.

Singapore a partial ban on firecrackers was imposed in March 1970 after a fire killed six people and injured 68. This was extended to a total ban in August 1972, after an explosion that killed two peopleand an attack on two police officers attempting to stop a group from letting off firecrackers in February 1972.[14] However, in 2003, the government allowed firecrackers to be set off during the festive season. At the Chinese New Year light-up inChinatown, at the stroke of midnight on the first day of the Lunar New Year, firecrackers are set off under controlled conditions by the Singapore Tourism Board. Other occasions where firecrackers are allowed to be set off are determined by the tourism board or other government organizations. However, their sale is not allowed.

Sweden - Only rocket type fireworks are allowed in Sweden. The ban of fire crackers was done by the EU Parliament and Swedish government 1 December 2001 Taiwan Beginning 2008, firecrackers are banned in urban areas, but still allowed in rural areas.

United Kingdom - In 1997, firecrackers became illegal but most other consumer fireworks are legal.

United States In 2007, New York City lifted its decade-old ban on firecrackers, allowing a display of 300,000 firecrackers to be set off in Chinatown'sChatham Square. Under the supervision of the fire and police departments, Los Angeles regularly lights firecrackers every New Year's Eve, mostly at temples and the shrines of benevolent associations. The San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade, the largest outside China, is accompanied by numerous firecrackers, both officially sanctioned and illicit.

Firecracker brands, packs and labels Early (pre-1920s) Chinese firecrackers (AKA Mandarin firecrackers) were typically 12 to 2 inches (13 to 51 mm) long, and approximately 14 inches (6.4 mm) in diameter, and were charged with black powder. Mandarin crackers produced a less loud, a duller thud, compared to modern flash light crackers (which utilize a different explosive known as flash powder). Mandarin crackers produced a dimmer, less brilliant flash when they exploded also. Individual Mandarin crackers were most often braided into "strings" of varying lengths, which when ignitied, exploded in rapid sequence. Generally, the strings (sometimes containing as many as several thousand crackers) would be hung from an overhead line before ignition. Most Mandarin crackers were colored all red and did not generally have designs or logos decorating their exterior surface (AKA "shell wraps"). Occasionally a few yellow and green Mandarin crackers were created and would be braided into the predominantly all red strings, to symbolize the emperor and the ruling class, while the numerous red crackers symbolized the common man.

A firecracker roll containing 10,000 fire crackers Once flash powder, which produces a significantly sharper and brighter bang, replaced black powder as a firecracker's explosive charge (circa 1924) manufacturers began competing to gain loyalty of the consumers (that is, mainly boys 816 years of age). Thousands of brands were

created during the flash light cracker's heyday from the 1920s through the early 1970s. Only a small percentage of brands lasted more than a year or two. Collectors now seek the various labels from the era.[17] Until the mid-1980s firecracker production was low-tech. They were handmade, beginning with rolling tubes. Once the firecracker tubes were rolled by hand (commonly from newspaper) and labelled, and then filled with powder, their ends were crimped and fuses inserted, all by hand. These finished firecrackers were usually braided into "strings" and sold in packs which came in many sizes, from the very small (called "penny packs" containing as few as 4 to 6 firecrackers) to the most common size packs (containing 16 and 20 crackers per pack), to larger packs (containing 24, 30, 32, 40, 50, 60, 72, 90, 100, and 120 firecrackers), to huge "belts" and "rolls" (packages containing strings of several hundred to several thousand crackers - Phantom Fireworks sells rolls as large as 16,000 firecrackers[18]). Firecracker packages were wrapped in colourful and translucent glassine paper, as well as clear cellophane, with glassine the most popular. The final operation involved applying a branded label on each pack, then bundling finished packs into wholesale lots called "bricks" which contained an average of 80 packs each (varying according to the size of the packs being bundled. For example, packs of 32 crackers might have 40 packs per brick, compared to packs of 16 or 20 with 80 packs per brick).

Process in making Fireworks

Different Types of Fireworks and its Components

Firecrackers Firecrackers are the original fireworks. n their simplest form, firecrackers consists of gunpowder wrapped in paper, with a fuse. Gunpowder consists of 75% potassium nitrate (KNO3), 15% charcoal (carbon) or sugar, and 10% sulfur. The materials will react with each other when enough heat is applied. Lighting the fuse supplies the Iheat to light a firecracker. The charcoal or sugar is the fuel. Potassium nitrate is the oxidizer, and sulfur moderates the reaction. Carbon from the charcoal or sugar plus oxygen from the air and the potassium nitrate forms carbon dioxide and energy. Potassium nitrate, sulfur, and carbon react to form nitrogen and carbon dioxide gases and potassium sulfide. The pressure from the expanding nitrogen and carbon dioxide explode the paper wrapper of a firecracker. The loud bang is the pop of the wrapper being blown apart. Sparklers A sparkler consists of a chemical mixture that is molded onto a rigid stick or wire. These chemicals often are mixed with water to form a slurry that can be coated on a wire by dipping or poured into a tube. Once the mixture dries, you have a sparkler. Aluminum, iron, steel, zinc or magnesium dust or flakes may be used to create the bright, shimmering sparks. An example of a simple sparkler recipe consists of potassium perchlorate and dextrin, mixed with water to coat a stick, then dipped in aluminum flakes. The metal flakes

heat up until they are incandescent and shine brightly or at a high enough temperature actually burn. A variety of chemicals can be added to create colors. The fuel and oxidizer, along with the other chemicals, are proportioned so that the sparkler burns slowly rather than exploding like a firecracker. Once one end of the sparkler is ignited, it burns progressively to the other end. Rockets & Aerial Shells Aerial shells are the fireworks that are shot into the sky to explode and burst off color and light. Some modern fireworks are launched using compressed air as a propellent and exploded using an electronic timer, but most aerial shells remain launched and exploded using gunpowder. Gunpowder-based aerial shells essentially function like two-stage rockets: The first stage of an aerial shell is a tube containing gunpowder, that is lit with a fuse much like a large firecracker. The difference is that the gunpowder is used to propel the firework into the air rather than explode the tube. There is a hole at the bottom of the firework so the expanding nitrogen and carbon dioxide gases launch the firework into the sky.

The second stage of the aerial shell is a package of gunpowder, more oxidizer, and colorants. The packing of the components determines the shape of the firework This is a simple shell used in an aerial fireworks display. The blue balls are the stars, and the gray is black powder. The powder is packed into the center tube, which is the bursting charge. It is also sprinkled between the stars to help ignite them. Simple shells consist of a paper tube filled with stars and black powder. Stars come in all shapes and sizes, but you can imagine a simple star as something like sparkler compound formed into a

ball the size of a pea or a dime. The stars are poured into the tube and then surrounded by black powder. When the fuse burns into the shell, it ignites the bursting charge, causing the shell to explode. The explosion ignites the outside of the stars, which begin to burn with bright showers of sparks. Since the explosion throws the stars in all directions, you get the huge sphere of sparkling light. The components of a modern firework include, from bottom to top, the following: launch tube, lift charge, fuse, black powder, break, stars, time delay fuse. The launch tube is the steel tube on the ground from which the firework shell is launched. The lift charge is the explosive at the bottom of the firework shell that propels the shell into the air. The fuse consists of wires that connect the firework to a master control board; electrical current moves across the wires to create a spark at the point of contact. Black powder is made up of potassium nitrate, charcoal (carbon), and sulfur in a 75:15:10 ratio by weight. Breaks are the separate compartments in a firework shell that contain a charge and stars. Stars are lumps made out of perchlorate, black powder, and the chemical compounds that create the various colors of fireworks. The time delay fuses are the fuses that burn down to the breaks and stars as the firework shell moves through the air.

Chemistry Behind
Processes involved in Making Fireworks

The processes that involve in the emission of light by fireworks are incandescence (or the black body radiation) which is followed by first the atomic emission and then finally the molecular emission that brings about the colorful emission: Incadescence (Black Body Radiation) The thermal radiation from a black body, an idealized physical body that absorbs all incident electromagnetic radiation, is energy-converted electrodynamically from the body's pool of internal thermal energy at any temperature greater than absolute zero. It is called blackbody radiation and has a frequency distribution with a characteristic frequency of maximum radiative power that shifts to higher frequencies with increasing temperature. As the temperature increases past a few hundred degrees Celsius, black bodies start to emit visible wavelengths, appearing red, orange, yellow, white, and blue with increasing temperature. When an object is visually white, it is emitting a substantial fraction as ultraviolet radiation. Atomic emission The process by which atoms emit certain, prefered wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation. An atomic emission spectrum is made up only of a few lines of colour. The atomic emission spectra are produced by thin gases in which the atoms do not experience many

collisions (because of the low density). The emission lines correspond to photons of discrete energies that are emitted when excited atomic states in the gas make transitions back to lowerlying levels. Molecular emission Molecular emission is the mechanism behind the sulfur lamp and the deuterium arc lamp. The energy of a molecule can also change via rotational, vibrational, and vibronic transitions. These energy transitions often lead to closely spaced groups of many different spectral lines, known as spectral bands. Unresolved band spectra may appear as a spectral continuum. The molecular emission spectrum of a chemical element or chemical compound is the spectrum of frequencies of electromagnetic radiation emitted by the element's atoms or the compound's molecules when they are returned to a lower energy state.

Creating Colors And Light

Creating firework color requires considerable art and application of science. There are two main mechanisms of color production in fireworks, incandescence and luminescence: Incandescence Incandescence is light produced from heat. Heat causes a substance to become hot and glow, initially emitting infrared, then red, orange, yellow, and white light as it becomes increasingly hotter. When the temperature of a firework is controlled, the glow of components, such as charcoal, can be manipulated to be the desired color (temperature) at the proper time. Metals, such as aluminum, magnesium, and titanium, burn very brightly and are useful for increasing the temperature of the firework. Luminescence Luminescence is light produced using energy sources other than heat. Sometimes luminescence is called 'cold light', because it can occur at room temperature and cooler temperatures. To produce luminescence, energy is absorbed by an electron of an atom or molecule, causing it to become excited, but unstable. When the electron returns to a lower energy state the energy is

released in the form of a photon (light). The energy of the photon determines its wavelength or color. Sometimes the salts needed to produce the desired color are unstable. Barium chloride (green) is unstable at room temperatures, so barium must be combined with a more stable compound (e.g., chlorinated rubber). In this case, the chlorine is released in the heat of the burning of the pyrotechnic composition, to then form barium chloride and produce the green color. Copper chloride (blue), on the other hand, is unstable at high temperatures, so the firework cannot get too hot, yet must be bright enough to be seen.

Firework Colorants Colors Intense Red Strontium Elements Compounds SrCO3 (strontium carbonate)

Medium Red


LiCl (lithium chloride) Li2CO3 (lithium carbonate)

Orange Yellow

Calcium Soidum

CaCl2 (calcium chloride) NaNO3 (sodium nitrate) Cryolite, Na3AlF6



BaCl2 (barium chloride)



CuCl2 (copper chloride) at low temperature

Turqouise Blue Indigo Violet

Copper Cesium Potassium

CuCl (copper (I) chloride) CsNO3 (cesium nitrate) KNO3 (potassium nitrate)

Red-Violet Gold White Silver


RbNO3 (rubidium nitrate)

Incandescence of iron (with carbon), charcoal, or lampblack Titanium, Aluminum, Beryllium, or Magnesium powders Burning Aluminum, Titanium, or Magnesium powder

Elements used in making Fireworks

Aluminum Used to produce silver and white flames and sparks. It is a common component of sparklers.

Antimony Used to create firework glitter effects. Barium Used to create green colors in fireworks, and it can also help stabilize other volatile elements. Calcium Used to deepen firework colors. Calcium salts produce orange fireworks. Carbon One of the main components of black powder, which is used as a propellent in fireworks. Carbon provides the fuel for a firework. Common forms include carbon black, sugar, or starch. Chlorine An important component of many oxidizers in fireworks. Several of the metal salts that produce colors contain chlorine. Copper Its compounds produce blue colors in fireworks. Iron Used to produce sparks. The heat of the metal determines the color of the sparks. Lithium A metal that is used to impart a red color to fireworks. Lithium carbonate, in particular, is a common colorant.


Burns a very bright white, so it is used to add white sparks or improve the overall brilliance of a firework. Oxygen Fireworks include oxidizers, which are substances that produce oxygen in order for burning to occur. The oxidizers are usually nitrates, chlorates, or perchlorates. Sometimes the same substance is used to provide oxygen and color. Phosphorus Burns spontaneously in air and is also responsible for some glow-in-the-dark effects. It may be a component of a firework's fuel. Potassium Helps to oxidize firework mixtures. Potassium nitrate, potassium chlorate, and potassium perchlorate are all important oxidizers. Sodium Imparts a gold or yellow color to fireworks, however, the color may be so bright that it masks less intense colors. Sulfur A component of black powder. It is found in a firework's propellant/fuel. Strontium Its salts impart a red color to fireworks. Strontium compounds are also important for stabilizing fireworks mixtures. Titanium Its metal can be burned as powder or flakes to produce silver sparks. Zinc

Used to create smoke effects for fireworks and other pyrotechnic devices.

Different Fireworks Displays

The pattern that an aerial shell paints in the sky depends on the arrangement of star pellets inside the shell. To create a specific figure in the sky, you create an outline of the figure in pellets, surround them as a group with a layer of break charge to separate them simultaneously from the rest of the contents of the shell, and place explosive chargesinside those pellets to blow them outward into a large figure. Each charge has to be ignited at exactly the right time.


Contains large comets, or charges in the shape of a solid cylinder, that travel outward,

explode and then curve downward like the limbs of a palm tree Round shell: Explodes in a spherical shape, usually of colored stars Ring shell: Explodes to produce a symmetrical ring of stars Willow: Contains stars (high charcoal composition makes them long-burning) that fall in the shape of willow branches and may even stay visible until they hit the ground Roundel: Bursts into a circle of maroon shells that explode in sequence Chrysanthemum: Bursts into a spherical pattern of stars that leave a visible trail, with an effect somewhat suggestive of the flower

Pistil: Like a chrysanthemum shell, but has a core that is a different color from the outer stars Maroon shell: Makes a loud bang Serpentine: Bursts to send small tubes of incendiaries skittering outward in random paths, which may culminate in exploding stars