The Explosive World of Fireworks

A look at what gives these holiday rockets their red glare.

A look at what gives these holiday rockets their red glare.

The rockets’ red glare. The bombs bursting in air. Fireworks have been a big part of our national history all the way back to 1777, when our founding fathers illuminated the sky to raise the spirits of a young nation fighting for independence. Since then, fireworks have become synonymous with our national birthday, booming all over the country with over 14,000 municipal fireworks displays each year. And all of those use petroleum as a key component to light up the sky. In fact, fireworks as we know them today would not be possible without it. Here are a few facts about how the Fourth of July is fueled by fuel:

  • PVC, a petroleum-based polymer, is used in fireworks as an enhancer to make the explosions burn brighter.
  • Mortars — the base where the fireworks are launched from — are often made from plastic.
  • Sulfur is a primary component in the explosive powder used in fireworks. It’s a by-product of petroleum, natural gas and other fossil fuels.
  • Different bangs, crackles and whistles are achieved with different chemical reactions after the charge explodes. An explosive mixture of powder is used for a flash and bang, burning bismuth produces crackles, and tightly packed organic compounds combined with an oxidizer create a whistling effect.
  • Various chemicals are used to produce different colored fireworks. For example, strontium creates a red explosion. Copper creates blue.
  • Fireworks were originally invented in China around 200 BCE. They were made out of green bamboo and hot coal and used to scare off unwanted visitors.
  • Approximately 250 million pounds of fireworks are purchased each year.
  • It goes without saying that fireworks are a fire hazard and can be dangerous. If you’re in an area where you can legally use fireworks, please do so in a safe and responsible way. Obey local laws, set them off in a clear area and never mix fireworks with drinking alcohol. Also, make sure you dispose of spent fireworks by wetting them down and putting them in a metal trash can.