Origin of Fireworks in the USA

fireworks usa flag in background

Happy 4th of July!  In last year’s letter, I began by saying that “it’s time to celebrate the birth of American independence with barbecues and fireworks!”  I went on to say a little something about an annual July 4th event, the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, which began in 1916.  This year, I decided I would write a few words about the origin of a much older and widespread tradition – Independence Day fireworks displays.

On July 4th, 1777, the U.S. Congress authorized the use of fireworks in organized Independence Day celebrations.  Interesting that it literally took an act of Congress to do so.  The first of those events took place in Philadelphia, and as The Pennsylvania Evening Post reported, “there was a grand exhibition of fireworks...and the city was beautifully illuminated.”  The Post was America’s first daily newspaper, operating from 1775 until 1783.

Although the Continental Congress voted in favor of the resolution to declare independence from England on July 2nd, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was officially adopted on July 4th – the date that has been used to celebrate ever since.  John Adams – one of the guys who signed the Declaration of Independence – thought that July 2nd was a more appropriate date to mark our independence, not the 4th.  It’s said that he actually declined invitations to appear at ensuing July 4th celebrations as a means of protest.  Ironically, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on the same day in 1826.  The date?  You guessed it...July 4th, 1826 - the 50th anniversary of American independence.

Francis Scott Key

Not really giving it much thought, it seemed reasonable that the fireworks tradition may have stemmed from the War of 1812.  In the midst of that war (which lasted from June 1812 until February 1815), a lawyer named Francis Scott Key found himself on board a British ship in the Baltimore harbor, negotiating the release of an American prisoner of war.  It was September 1814, and the Battle of Fort McHenry was raging around him.  As the “rocket’s red glare” and the “bombs bursting in air” lit up the night sky like a fireworks show, Francis Scott Key saw an American flag waving in the distance.  The image that “our flag was still there” gave him hope, and his poem became our national anthem.

Fireworks have been a 4th of July tradition since 1777.  As you celebrate a safe and sane Independence Day holiday this weekend, please take a moment to reflect on how fortunate we are to enjoy our freedom, and honor those who sacrificed to gain it. 

war of independence

In keeping with the patriotic theme, Last Wave is highlighting our classic red, white and blue designs.  We’re well stocked on our popular Dewey Weber “USA” and “Flag” tees, and we just sewed up some cool new Dewey Weber USA hats - just in time for this year’s holiday!  And with a purchase of $75 or more from now to Wednesday July 5, 2023, you will receive a brand new Last Wave USA tee – free!  Finally, the latest addition to our collection of classic surf brands is Creative Freedom, a late ‘60s brand out of Santa Barbara. Check ‘em out!!

Until next time,