Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Sound & Fury

History of the Invention of Fireworks

Who Invented Fireworks and When Were They Invented? 

Many people associate fireworks with Independence Day, but their original use was in New Year's celebrations. Do you know how fireworks were invented?

Legend tells of a Chinese cook who accidentally spilled saltpeter into a cooking fire, producing an interesting flame. Saltpeter, an ingredient in gunpowder, was used as a flavoring salt sometimes. The other gunpowder ingredients, charcoal and sulfur, also were common in early fires. Though the mixture burned with a pretty flame in a fire, it exploded if it was enclosed in a bamboo tube.

History

 

This serendipitous invention of gunpowder appears to have occurred about 2000 years ago, with exploding firecrackers produced 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 at the commencement of the new year to scare away evil spirits.

Much of the modern focus of fireworks is on light and color, but loud noise (known as "gung pow" or "bian pao") was desirable in a religious firework, since that was what frightened the spirits. By the 15th century, fireworks were a traditional part of other celebrations, such as military victories and weddings. The Chinese story is well-known, though it's possible fireworks really were invented in India or Arabia.

From Firecrackers to Rockets 

 

In addition to exploding gunpowder for firecrackers, the Chinese used gunpowder combustion for propulsion. Handcarved wooden rockets, shaped like dragons, shot rocket-powered arrows at the Mongol invaders in 1279. Explorers took knowledge of gunpowder, fireworks, and rockets back with them when they returned home. Arabians in the 7th century referred to rockets as Chinese arrows. Marco Polo is credited with bringing gunpowder to Europe in the 13th century. The crusaders also brought the information with them.

Beyond Gunpowder 

 

Many fireworks are made in much the same way today as they were hundreds of years ago. However, some modifications have been made. Modern fireworks may include designer colors, like salmon, pink, and aqua, that weren't available in the past.


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 shows could be put to music) and reducing smoke and fumes from big displays.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Science Behind Firecrackers and Sparklers

Firecrackers, Sparklers & Aerial Shell Fireworks

Hiroyuki Matsumoto/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images
Fireworks have been a traditional part of New Year's celebrations since they were invented by the Chinese almost a thousand years ago. Today fireworks displays are seen on most holidays. Have you ever wondered how they work? There are different types of fireworks. Firecrackers, sparklers, and aerial shells are all examples of fireworks. Though they share some common characteristics, each type works a little differently.

How Firecrackers Work 

 

Firecrackers are the original fireworks. In their simplest form, firecrackers consist of gunpowder wrapped in paper, with a fuse. Gunpowder consists of 75% potassium nitrate (KNO 3), 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 heat 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.

How Sparklers Work 

 

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 are proportioned, along with the other chemicals, 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. In theory, the end of the stick or wire is suitable to support it while burning.

How Rockets & Aerial Shells Work 

 

When most people think of 'fireworks' an aerial shell probably comes to mind. These are the fireworks that are shot into the sky to explode. Some modern fireworks are launched using compressed air as a propellant 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.

No comments: