Fun and Fireworks on the Fourth

July 4th has always been one of my favorite holidays. What’s not to love about sunny weather, backyard barbecues, parades, national spirit and–of course–fireworks?!

A brief history of fireworks

While fireworks have long been a hallmark of Independence Day celebrations in the United States, the explosive concoction is believed by most experts to have originated in China nearly 2000 years ago. Legend has it, a cook accidentally combined charcoal, sulphur, and saltpeter while experimenting one day in the kitchen. Stored in a bamboo tube, the volatile mixture exploded upon contact with flames.

Whether or not this account is accurate, it is evident that "black powder" was used in China for both military and entertainment purposes at least as early as the 13th century. The explorer Marco Polo is believed to have carried the mixture west to Arabia and England. From there, its use spread throughout Europe and eventually to the United States. Today, fireworks can be seen at celebrations around the world from Tokyo to India to South America.

Big city blowouts and island retreats

While there are a few lists of the best places to watch fireworks across the United States, we like this one of the "Top Ten Places to Celebrate July 4th" for its consideration of both fireworks displays and other fun activities, and its inclusion of famous and less well-known locales.

Making the cut are:

1. Boston 

2. Cape Cod & Islands 

3. Chicago 

4. Mount Rushmore               

5. Philadelphia 

6. Queen Mary 2 

7. San Diego 

8. San Juan Islands 

9. U.S. Virgin Islands                   

10. Washington, DC.

Tell Us: Where are your favorite places to celebrate the 4th?

Sparklers in Illinois? Rockets in Florida?

When I was a kid, I always wondered why I could play with sparklers while camping in New Hampshire and would see huge billboards for fireworks stores on the interstate, but I couldn’t buy fireworks in any shops near me. While professionals put on magnificent shows around the nation, laws governing the amateur use of fireworks vary by state. Check out this map with a breakdown of state restrictions to find out where fireworks are allowed and where they’re banned.

Have a safe, happy holiday!

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9 responses to “Fun and Fireworks on the Fourth

  1. Happy birthday! Such a nice blog. I really liked your brief history of fireworks. But I must insist that Tokyo should be in the top 10 cities to see fireworks. Check this out and I’m sure you’ll agree!
    You can see some of the beautiful fireworks in the middle of the video.


  2. Hi Ohana Means Family,
    I’m glad to hear you enjoyed this little piece about the Fourth of July, and, most importantly, that it inspired you to further research the topic. That’s our goal! The Fourth of July always been one of my favorite holidays, too. What’s not to love about sunny summer weather, barbecues, ice cream and, of course, fireworks?! It also happens to fall during my birthday month, which may make me a little biased…


  3. The 4th of July seems more underappreciated each year. I still love it, thanks for the little excerpt on firework history. It made me research it even more, really fascinating stuff.


  4. It’s interesting that the fireworks map shows California as permitting most types of consumer fireworks. My county (Contra Costa) and most of the surrounding counties prohibit all consumer fireworks because of extreme fire danger this time of year. Many parts of the state literally hold their breath over the holiday, hoping that no severe fires are started by errant fireworks.


  5. I was fortunate enough to enjoy the fireworks in Washington, DC for the first time. It was an incredible site standing at the base of the Washington Monument looking at the World War II and Lincoln Memorials as I took in the fantastic fireworks. I’d recommend the experience for anyone.


  6. Does anybody know of fireworks that were commonly available, say 40 years ago, and were banned for being horribly dangerous.


  7. MMW offers great geographic activities for parents, teachers, and students. Thanks National Geographic.


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