NOVA Online (see text links below)
Did You Know?
20 curious facts about fireworks
  1. Because the static electricity in synthetic clothing can create sparks capable of detonating fireworks, those who make shells must stick to wearing cotton—all the way down to their underwear.

  2. Fireworks use in the U.S. rose by almost two and a half times during the 1990s, from 67.6 million pounds in 1990 to 156.9 million pounds in 1999.

  3. During the same period, the number of firework-related injuries per 100,000 pounds of fireworks consumed fell from 17.7 to 5.4.

  4. In 2000, nevertheless, fireworks were involved in an estimated 11,000 injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms; 10 fireworks-related deaths occurred.

  5. Children under age 15 accounted for almost half of firework injuries in 2000.

  6. The parts of the body most often injured were the eyes, hands, and the head and face.

  7. The most disastrous fireworks-related tragedy occurred during a marriage celebration of King Louis XVI to Marie Antoinette on May 16, 1770. After the fireworks show, a stampede occurred as people tried to leave what today is the Place de la Concorde, and approximately 800 people were killed.

  8. Historians believe that black powder (gunpowder), the explosive ingredient in fireworks, was invented in China about A.D. 1000.

  9. The Italians were the first Europeans to develop fireworks into an art form.

  10. During the Renaissance, when fireworks as we know them were invented, those who set off fireworks lit their creations with tissue paper rolled around a trail of gunpowder.

  11. In public shows today, specialists use computers to both control the electronic ignition of fireworks and synchronize the aerial bursts with music.

  12. Thirty years ago a typical firework display lasted an hour, while today's shows rarely last more than 20 minutes.

  13. Japan has perfected the daytime fireworks display, in which smoke effects predominate over light effects.

  14. The art of making and setting off fireworks is known as "pyrotechnics," and firework professionals are known as "pyrotechnists" or "pyrotechnicians."

  15. Pyrotechnicians today are striving to make fireworks spell out words in the sky.

  16. The official military name of the M-80, an illegal firework that was designed to simulate the sound of gunfire, is "military rifle fire simulator."

  17. Because of the effect caused, pyrotechnicians call a firework that misfires and explodes within the launch tube a "flowerpot."

  18. Of the 656,548 fires in the United States reported by the United States Fire Administration in 1997, just 0.3 percent involved fireworks.

  19. Black powder is classified as a "low explosive," meaning its detonation velocity is less than about 100 yards per second. "High explosives" like dynamite have a velocity of detonation greater than 1,000 yards per second.

  20. While consumer fireworks are illegal in some of the 50 American states, licensed public displays are forbidden in none.


Note: Unless otherwise specified, all sources are NOVA/WGBH.

2.-3. American Pyrotechnics Association
4.-6. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 2000 Fireworks Annual Report
7. Fireworks: A History and Celebration, by George Plimpton (Anchor Books, 1989), p. 206.
8. Ibid., p. 153.
9. Fireworks Tonight! by Martha Brenner (Hastings House Publishers, 1986), p. 25.
16. Plimpton, p. 156.
17. Ibid., p. 169.
18. American Pyrotechnics Association

Printer-Friendly Format   Feedback

Name That Shell | Anatomy of a Firework | Pyrotechnically Speaking | On Fire
Resources | Transcript | Teacher's Guide | Site Map | Fireworks! Home

Search | Site Map | Previously Featured | Schedule | Feedback | Teachers | Shop
Join Us/E-Mail | About NOVA | Editor's Picks | Watch NOVAs online | To print
PBS Online | NOVA Online | WGBH

© | Updated January 2002
Shop Teachers Feedback Schedule Previously Featured Site Map Search NOVA Home Site Map Fireworks! Home