For many in the United States on July 4, the traditional way to end the day is to sit down, look up and watch a fireworks show — an artistic display of light, color and sound that fills the sky, evoking a sense of patriotic pride on America’s Independence Day.
Fireworks displays are an annual tradition, one that began with John Adams — a Founding Father and the country’s second president. Adams envisioned fireworks as part of Independence Day celebrations. In a letter to his wife, Abigail, Adams explained that the festivities should include “Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations [fireworks] from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
Adams would likely be pleased that Americans took his advice — and ran with it.
In recent decades, big-city fireworks shows have become complex affairs lit electronically and choreographed by computer. (The COVID-19 pandemic forced a two-year halt to many Independence Day festivities. But this year, communities nationwide are eager to resume their celebrations, according to Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.)
Heckman says technicians have spent months arranging fireworks patterns resembling crackling rain, falling water and chrysanthemums to match complex music.
“The creators of the pyrotechnics are really using the sky as a blank canvas and designing how they want the different types of fireworks and effects to paint the sky and synchronize with the music,” she said.
In small towns, fireworks displays are often lit as they were in Adams’ time — by hand. New technologies can be costly, and old habits die slowly. “It might be their own small town,” said Heckman, “and [local pyrotechnicians] just love doing it.”
Demand for fireworks has never been higher, Heckman says. “We predict fireworks will exceed pre-2020 levels.”
A version of this story was previously published June 26, 2019.