The Origin of Fireworks

Marked by great beauty and splendor, fireworks have always fascinated us. Fireworks are characterized as “smoke fire (enka)” in Japanese legal parlance, and people appreciate the light, color, smoke, and the sound generated by the burning or explosion of gunpowder or other materials. In order to manufacture fireworks, it is imperative to develop gunpowder. In effect, the origin of fireworks is considered to have been derived from the military’s use of firearms. Subsequently, they were transformed into what are known as fireworks today.
1) The Discovery of Black Powder and the Appearance of Fireworks
The oldest type of explosives used for producing fireworks is black powder. Even though the origin of black powder is unknown, an ancient Chinese book titled *Huainanzi made a reference to it. According to the book, Chinese people used components of black powder in the process of Chinese alchemy. Therefore, it is believed that the explosive was accidentally invented, in the course of seeking medical treatment and longevity, and the finding was utilized to manufacture firearms. Thereafter, around the 12th century, firecrackers and skyrockets began to appear as well as military utilizations. [*Huainanzi: an ancient Chinese book that comprises a collection of essays that resulted from a series of scholarly debates held at the court of the Prince of Huainan, Liu An (179 – 122 B.C.)].
2) The Origin of Modern Fireworks
Gunpowder and fireworks traversed the Silk Road, from China to the Middle East, and eventually reached Europe. In the 14th century, fireworks were used during Easter ceremonies in Florence, and certain other places in Italy. Subsequently, fireworks became widespread across Europe. In that regard, Florence is considered “the birthplace of modern fireworks.” Furthermore, in the 15th century, Henry VII – the King of England – celebrated his wedding with skyrockets. Since then, aerial fireworks have become an essential part of ceremonies, and other royal families also began using them as a symbol of their status.
[About the Pictures]
– Greek fire [on the left of the panel]: From approximately 4th and 5th century B.C., Greeks started using an incendiary weapon called “Greek fire” that uses compounds similar to gunpowder.
– Figure of Pi Li Huo Qiu (Thunderclap fireball) [on the bottom of the panel]: In Wujing Zongyao – a Chinese military compendium written during the Song dynasty – the figure of Pi Li Huo Qiu (can be translated as “Thunderclap fireball”) has been illustrated. The spherical explosive weapon has caltrops in the core, and is coated with a layer of gunpowder. It disperses the caltrops when it explodes.
– Fireworks in London [on the right side of the panel]: In 1749, George II – the King of Great Britain and Ireland – celebrated his victory in the War of Austrian Succession with fireworks. The ceremony was held in Green Park, London, and the song “Music for the Royal Fireworks” (composed by Georg F. Handel) was performed for the first time.