festivals like Diwali remind us of the brilliant display of
colourful fireworks which explode in the dark nights. The
cities are famous for these. Nowadays, as a step to curb pollution
and save the expenses, common community displayS of fireworks
are becoming increasingly popular. Here, we will see how these
fireworks originated. Fireworks and crackers are used the
world over, only the occasion differs in different countries.
They lend a distinct colourful glittering aura to religious,
political, social, sports and various other celebrations.
But you would be surprised to know that they had their origin
in a kitchen and it was quite unintentional! The period was
the second century BC and the place was a community kitchen
somewhere in the open fields of China. A forerunner
of our own venerable Jiggs Kalra, while preparing the spicy
meals, inadvertently dropped saltpeter (potassium nitrate,
a substitute of salt and still used in the Chinese kitchens)
into a cooking fire. It resulted in colourful and furious
The master inventor cook made yet another colourful mistake
and mixed together three commonly found ingredients: saltpeter,
sulphur and charcoal and noticed that when ignited, the mixture
burns with a force considerably more than the burning of a
bunch of sticks and the colourful flames were really a spectacle
to watch. This inadvertent "mistake" later led to
the invention of firecrackers. The loud booming sounds associated
with the new creation led the ancient Chinese to believe that
this was a perfect device to scare off evil spirits and to
herald in new years and announce battle victories. The "gung
pow" as the new invention was called by the Chinese,
was also used in weddings and family gatherings. Notice the
similarity of the word 'gung pow' with 'gun powder'.
The first authentic reference to fireworks dates back to 1040
AD, when the Chinese wrapped the three ingredients in paper
and added some more chemicals and made a "Fire Pill."
This documentation is quite exhaustive and contains several
recipes to make fireworks and many of these are similar to
what is practised today. Actually how fireworks found their
way to the west is shrouded in ambiguity but legend has it
that Marco Polo brought this new invention to the west from
one of his many trips to China and other countries in the
east. Of course, the credit for the development of the military
potential goes to the west. First into rockets, then into
guns. According to another version the knowledge of making
fireworks spread west, through Arabia in the seventh century.
Some credit the Mongols with taking Chinese rockets and gunpowder
to Europe around 1241. The first record of their use in Europe
is around 1258 AD.
the early 1300s, almost every country had its own version
of what fireworks were meant to be. The Germans used fireworks
in battles. The Chinese continued light fireworks in honor
of celebrations, as did the British. Then almost any event
- a birth, death, wedding, coronation or New Year celebration
- became a fit occasion for the noisemakers. It was during
the first part of the 1500s that the Military first introduced
fireworks to the United States, lighting them as entertainment
at major events. According to available records the response
was so outstanding that jobs were created and factories opened
everywhere, each offering a new and different form of fireworks.
Slowly over the years the westerners developed small gunpowder
charges that were physically thrown. Eventually guns came
out of the invention of fireworks, along with the introduction
of fire powder. King Charles V had a great affinity
for fireworks. He had many "fire-workers"
in his royal staff, and whenever a victory was celebrated,
it was done with fireworks. Fireworks soon became a favourite
form of celebration and festivities in the west, especially
in the royal courts. Fire-masters soon became a much sought
after commodity. They were in great demand in royal families.
Many of the fire-masters were killed or injured as they entertained
others with their dangerous profession.
Fireworks have always been dangerous. It was in the 1890s
that the "Society for Suppression of Unnecessary noise"
was formed in the United States of America. This group persuaded
people to stop using fireworks. It was in the beginning of
the last century that the medical fraternity got into the
act and chronicled the fatalities and injuries caused by fireworks.
So, what was an accidental invention so many years ago still
continues to be the cause of many a serious and tragic accidents.