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Fireworks - What, How and Why?

abingdon fireworks, illusion fireworks, fireworks finale, wedding fireworks
Abingdon Fireworks

Fireworks are widely recognised for signifying festivities and celebrations. They manage to captivate all audiences, whether it is a public celebration, birthday, anniversary, or even someone letting them off from afar. Although we see them and are mesmerised by their beautiful colours and patterns, what do we actually know about them? Let’s delve into the history and science behind fireworks.

What are Fireworks?

Fireworks are a type of low explosive pyrotechnic, used for aesthetic and entertainment purposes. They are most used in firework displays, these displays are the focal point of many cultural and religious celebrations.

Brief History…

Many people make the mistake of assuming fireworks are an American invention due to them being the centrepiece of 4th of July celebrations. Fireworks actually originate from China, dating more than 2000 years ago. These original fireworks were in the form of explosive bamboo stems, which were thrown into the air. In continuation of being the creators of fireworks, it makes sense that today, China produces and exports more fireworks than any other country in the world.

In the 14th century, chemicals were added to these early fireworks, resulting in different colours and combinations, these became useful tools for military smoke signals. This was similar time to when fireworks were introduced into Europe, with knowledge of recipes gained by some Europeans living in China at the time.

It wasn’t until the 17th century that fireworks became widely popular, but the difficulty of acquiring materials and chemicals meant it was not until the 20th century when they became easily purchasable in all their varieties.

How Do Fireworks Work?

A firework is the result of a series of chemical reactions that happen consecutively in a short space of time. By adding heat to the equation, it becomes a catalyst where solid compounds burn with the oxygen in the air. This converts into several other chemicals, which in turn releases gases like carbon dioxide, nitrogen and carbon monoxide.

The colour comes from different metal compounds that are contained within the firework. When these burn, they emit different colours depending on the compound.

The rapid release of hot gas when igniting a firework causes a lot of pressure that propels the firework in the opposite direction to the hot gas being emitted. This is why they shoot into the air at such a speed.

Popular Types of Fireworks Include:

Smoke Bombs

These fireworks are designed to create a colourful smoke.

Catherine Wheels

These fireworks are named after Saint Catherine of Alexandria. She was sentenced to death by an execution wheel but upon touching it, it burst into pieces. On ignition these fireworks erupt into a wheel of rotating sparks and flames (so the name seems appropriate).


These are cone-shaped and sit on the ground. They are one of the most recognisable fireworks, that erupt into sparks and stars, accompanied by crackling and whistling sounds.

Roman Candles

These are a traditional firework which are long tubes that shoot balls of chemicals, creating a series of flaming stars and colourful balls of light.


These are fireworks that have multiple tubes and contain several Roman Candles or aerial shells that are linked by a high-speed fuse. These create long-lasting explosive effects that are stunning.


These are rocket shaped fireworks, when lit, a substance explodes, creating gasses that rapidly shoot the firework into the air. When the firework reaches a certain height, another spark causes it to blow up.


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