Fireworks: For Patriot and Pyro Alike

Tag Christof/June 29, 2014

The heart of even the most resolute curmudgeon can be melted by a firework or two. At a spry 14 centuries old, they’ve come to stand in as humankind’s definitive emblem of shared revelry and celebration. Whether on Boxing Day, Bastille Day, or every single day at Disneyland, there’s really nothing a few fireworks can’t turn into a full-on occasion.

They remain the one analogue pleasure unquestionably superior to any digital counterpart—laser light shows are so 1991—and show no signs of being outclassed. They go way back in human history, with the first firecrackers even predating gunpowder. (And, admit it: it’s still really fun to blow things up with Black Cats.)

While they haven’t changed a great deal in our lifetimes, fireworks makers continue to explore new pyrotechnic possibilities, especially in the realm of color. Chemists have most of the visible light spectrum down pat—it’s common knowledge that sodium makes orange and barium makes green, for instance—but blue is a harder nut to crack. Because of the particular way in which they explode then quickly cool, there isn’t as yet a reliable way to make deep, sapphire blue, although recent experiments with with electronic fuses and modified chemical compounds suggest that it may not be far off.

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If you’re Stateside and happen to be gearing up for Yankee Doodle Dandy day festivities next week, chances are pretty good that you’ll be making a run to the nearest state line to stock up on sparklers, smoke bombs and bottle rockets. To wade through snake oil salesmen, dubious packaging and daunting selection, here are our 3 favorites:

Fountains
These faithful soldiers consist of a simple cardboard cylinder atop a sturdy (usually pressed wood) base wrapped in paper. Light the fuse and voilà—an incandescent Trevi or fleeting Las Vegas Bellagio without the bellowing Bocelli.

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Aereal repeaters
Pyrotechnics masters have perfected the art of showmanship , and today almost all major fireworks displays are digitally synchronized like well-planned DJ sets. No poor sap has to run up and light a fuse for every pow, which both spares anxiety and ensures smooth rapid-fire so that each sequence builds to a crescendo of well-deserved oohs and aahs .

They are the low-fi, backyard version of a full-on pyrotechnics display. A coffee-can (or larger) sized delight with just one fuse, it comprises a dozen or more shots—including both fountains and aerial shells—that fire in rapid sequence.

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Roman candles
Because extra proximity to danger always makes anything that extra bit more exciting, we heartily endorse the fireworks you can hold. Banned in at least five states, they are part bottle rocket and part aerial shell in a hand held package—complete, like a good burrito. I once lit one in my childhood bedroom, a preteen act of pseudo-rebellion that to this day means I’m not often trusted with matches.

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Watch those extremities! And a happy, happy 4th of July from us!

Photos by Will Godwin. 

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