Fireworks! Fun, Facts and lots of Photos for 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?!

Photograph by David Boyer, National Geographic


While fireworks have long been a hallmark of Independence Day celebrations in the United States—the first was in Philadelphia in 1777—the explosive concoction is much older than our nation!

The first fireworks probably originated in China nearly 2,000 years ago. Science, alchemy, superstition, spirituality, and imperial legacy exploded. So did tall tales: 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.

Fireworks spread like wildfire at celebrations spread from Asia to Europe and Africa. They arrived in Australia and the New World with European colonization.

What’s really in fireworks? Take a look at these typically terrific Compound Interest graphics to get an idea.

Graphic by Compound Interest. CC-BY-NC-ND
Graphic by Compound Interest. CC-BY-NC-ND
Graphic by Compound Interest. CC-BY-NC-ND

Today, fireworks can be seen at celebrations around the world from Iran to Hong Kong to Cuba.


Best Places to Feel the Boom!

Where is your favorite place to watch 4th of July fireworks?

Travel + Leisure has chosen their favorites in all 50 states.

Here are our Top 10:

  1. The National Mall in Washington, D.C.
  2. Addison, Texas
  3. Boston, Massachusetts
  4. New York City, New York
  5. New Orleans, Louisiana
  6. Las Vegas, Nevada
  7. St. Louis, Missouri
  8. Lake Tahoe, California-Nevada
  9. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  10. Seattle, Washington


While professionals put on magnificent shows around the nation, laws governing the amateur use of fireworks vary by state. Check out this map, and click here to find your state’s laws, and have a safe, happy holiday!

Map by American Pyrotechnics Association



James R. Heintze, American University: Fourth of July Celebrations Database

Time: How Fireworks Became a Fourth of July Tradition

History Channel: Fireworks’ Vibrant History

Compound Interest: The Chemistry of Fireworks

Travel + Leisure: The Best Fourth of July Fireworks in Every U.S. State

10 thoughts on “Fireworks! Fun, Facts and lots of Photos for 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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