Why We Set Off Fireworks on the Fourth of July

Because we always have

Bart/Creative Commons Flickr

Why do we set off fireworks on the 4th of July? Because we always have.

In 1777, one year after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia held a massive celebration. American University’s James R. Heintze dug up this account, from the Virginia Gazette:

One of the most elaborate celebrations in 1777 and the first organized celebration of its kind occurred in Philadelphia. This event had all of the elements of typical future celebrations–the discharge of cannon, one round for each state in the union, the ringing of bells, a dinner, the use of music, the drinking of toasts (it would subsequently be traditional to have one toast for each state in the union), “loud huzzas,” a parade, fireworks, and the use of the nation’s colors, in this case the dressing up of “armed ships and gallies” in the harbor.

The fireworks celebration that night began and ended with 13 fireworks being set off from the city’s commons.

Boston also had fireworks that year, and the tradition grew from there. July 4th fireworks displays have even occurred in Antarctica, when explorer Richard Byrd set off fireworks on a relatively warm day—33 degrees below zero.

Now that’s patriotism.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Declaration of Independence Desk

American Independence Museum

Juneteenth: Our Other Independence Day

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