In the eyes of many Americans, the Fourth of July is a day for parades, barbecue and, of course, fireworks.
But why is it that we celebrate Independence Day with explosives?
The tradition got its start at the beginning of our nation’s history after the Founding Fathers met in Philadelphia to write and sign the Declaration of Independence.
A day after the Second Continental Congress approved the declaration on July 4, 1776, John Adams — soon to be the second U.S. president — penned a letter to his wife Abigail, declaring that 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.”
One year later, in 1777, Philadelphia celebrated the anniversary with fireworks (which Adams dubbed “illuminations”) plus a parade.
But while their American origin story is interesting, that’s not all when it comes to forgotten or overlooked facts about fireworks. Before you head to the backyard barbecue to set off a few with the fam, brush up on your fireworks facts to impress your friends.
1. Currently, Americans are shooting off almost one pound of fireworks each year for every person.
This figure has grown rapidly from half a pound in 2000. In 1976, the United States’ bicentennial, the figure was just one-tenth of a pound annually.
One reason for the big increase is a steady reduction in state prohibitions against individuals using fireworks.
2. Today, only three states (Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Delaware) completely prohibit individuals from owning and using any type of fireworks.
All the rest allow usage in some form. Since the year 2000, 15 states have liberalized their fireworks laws.
3. Fireworks are allowed in Iowa — but they can only be exploded on the few days around the Fourth of July, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve.
It’s one of the more recent states to allow fireworks, but you’d better read the fine print before setting off a display in the off-season!
4. By 2016, professional displays comprised less than 10% of total fireworks usage.
Because states are now permitting individuals to purchase and possess fireworks, there has been a large shift from professional to amateur use. Back in 2000, roughly one-third of all fireworks hurled into the sky were done for professional displays, the kind that light the skies of cities around the world on holidays like New Year’s Eve and national celebrations.
5. In 1996 it cost about $1.34 (in today’s dollars) to import one pound of fireworks. By 2016 the price had fallen to just $1.17 a pound.
That also means, pound for pound, fireworks are about half the price of the frankfurters many people are grilling this Fourth.
6. Back in 1986, fireworks injured about 6.6 out of every 100,000 people. In 2008, the rate was down to 2.3 people.
Since 1986, injuries have steadily fallen as government regulations made them safer.
7. But as states have relaxed restrictions, the injuries have started increasing again. The latest figures for 2016 show a rate of 3.4 people per 100,000.
Beyond such statistics, however low, every year there are horrible stories of both children and adults being injured and killed. So it’s always important to exercise caution when lighting what amounts to a low-yield missile.
8. Now, fireworks are required to meet higher safety standards.
One reason that injury rates have fallen in the first place is because of the federal government’s Consumer Product Safety Commission. It banned the sale of the most dangerous fireworks, like M-80s and cherry bombs, in the 1960s.
Today, it is working to lower injury rates again by requiring manufacturers to adhere to higher standards. For example, faulty fuses have caused many injuries by burning either too quickly or too slowly.
Which is why …
9. All fireworks fuses are now required to ignite three to nine seconds after being lit.
The commission also now requires fireworks to have bases that are wider and support more weight so they do not tip over and fire horizontally.
As more states allow fireworks this Fourth of July, millions more people celebrate by shooting off “illuminations.”
But if you do plan to light a few rockets or more advanced fireworks, use some common sense, especially if children are around.
Whether you are lighting fireworks, watching them explode above you, or just hiding from the noise, try to have a fun and safe Independence Day!