One of the best things about Independence Day and certain other holidays and celebrations is the fireworks show. It lights up the night sky with brilliant, colorful explosions. The sights and sounds of a spectacular fireworks show can amaze your senses, lift your spirits and inspire your heart.

Although fireworks may seem like pure magic, they’re actually pure science. All those different shapes and colors come about as a result of careful planning when making fireworks.

Experts believe fireworks were invented in China well over 1,000 years ago. Today, China is still the largest manufacturer of fireworks in the world.

Most kids are familiar with two basic types of fireworks: firecrackers and sparklers. Believe it or not, the science behind these two basic fireworks form the basis for those spectacular fireworks displays you see in the sky (called aerial fireworks).

Firecrackers are simple rolled paper tubes filled with black powder (also called gunpowder) or flash paper and a fuse. When you light the fuse of a firecracker, the fire burns along the fuse until it reaches the powder. When it does, you get an explosion.

Sparklers are different in that they make bright, sparkly light for a long time (up to a minute or more) rather than a short explosion. Sparklers contain more substances than firecrackers, so that they’ll burn longer and produce light and sparks. The bright sparks you see are usually burning bits of dust made of metals, such as aluminum, iron, steel, zinc or magnesium.

Aerial fireworks are usually manufactured as a shell that is made up of four parts. The container consists of pasted paper. The fuse allows the shell to reach the desired altitude before exploding. A bursting charge made of black powder (like a firecracker) is at the center of the shell. Stars (sparkler-like substances shaped into small spheres) are mixed throughout the interior of the shell.

These shells are usually launched into the sky from short pipes filled with a lifting charge of black powder. The lifting charge also lights the shell’s fuse, which burns as the shell rises into the sky. When the flame along the fuse hits the bursting charge inside the shell, the shell explodes and the magic begins!

The explosion ignites the stars. The stars burn to produce the bright sparks of light we see in the sky. The explosion pushes the stars in all directions, which creates the beautiful displays we’re all familiar with.

If you’ve ever seen fireworks that seem to explode in different stages, those fireworks use special “multibreak” shells. You can think of them as shells within shells that are made to explode in different phases.

Not all fireworks look the same. Some explode in a circle, while others look like a shower of sparks falling down toward the Earth. The specific pattern that fireworks make in the sky depends upon the way the stars are arranged in the shell. To create a special pattern, manufacturers create an outline of the pattern they want with stars and then surround those stars with a special charge that will separate them all at the same time from the shell.

It takes just as much science to create the beautiful colors we enjoy watching during fireworks shows. Most colors are produced by carefully mixing the right kinds of chemical compounds that will make particular colors when they burn.

Here are just a few examples of some of the chemical compounds used to make certain colors:

  • red: strontium and lithium salts or carbonates
  • yellow: sodium compounds
  • green: barium compounds
  • blue: copper compounds

 

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  1. Dear Wonderopolis,
    Cool wonder! I think fireworks are so pretty and I love watching them every 4th of July. I actually don’t know how fireworks are made. I think tomorrow’s wonder is about stars.
    XOXOXOXOXO,
    Paige ;)

    • Hi, Paige! If you’re not sure how fireworks are made, we encourage you to explore this Wonder of the Day® about them…there are many fun facts to learn! Thanks for being a GREAT Wonder Friend! :-)

    • We’re super sorry you’ve got a cold, Rahul! :-( Thanks for letting us know you liked this Wonder…we hope you feel better very soon! :-)

    • That display was really awesome, we agree, Sydney! There are special people called “pyrotechnic professionals” who are hired by cities and large events to plan, place and produce those big fireworks shows! They can even make it so the fireworks explode to the beat of music in a song! :-)

  2. I learnd a lot about the fireworks. I learned how they make the pattens and all that. I think it is so, so cool. When it is 4th of July? I always let the fireworks off with my grandpa.

    • We’re sure glad you learned cool new facts about fireworks by exploring this Wonder, McKenzie! The 4th of July is still a few months away, but it falls on a Wednesday this year! How fun that you and your grandpa share such a special fireworks memory! :-)

  3. Dear Wonderopiles,

    Hey, I love all your articles. I liked the one with the llama that spit on the kid.

    XOXO,

    Lilly

    • Hi, Lilly! Thank you SO MUCH for letting us know you enjoy visiting Wonderopolis and learning new things from each Wonder of the Day®! :-)

    • We’re glad you didn’t get hit by that bottle rocket, Hunter! Fireworks are really awesome, but they are SUPER dangerous, too! Please be careful and always have an adult around when you are celebrating with fireworks…we care about all of our Wonder Friends and we don’t want anyone to get hurt! :-)

  4. We really liked it. It was soooooooo interesting, wonderoplis is. :) We loved the video, all the bright colors, and we both like fireworks. I like to see them at Disney World!

    • The fireworks at Disney World are GREAT, we agree, AH and KW! Thank you BOTH for checking out today’s Wonder and for sharing your comment with us! :-)

  5. Wow, that video was awesome! We hope we can visit Sydney someday. How big is the city of Sydney? We have a guess for tomorrow’s wonder. Is it about Ireland or Scotland, because we think they wear plaid skirts. Have a great day and we’re excited for tomorrow’s.

    • We’re really excited for tomorrow’s Wonder, too, Mr. Draper’s Class! You guys are GREAT guessers, so we can’t wait to see if your guess for tomorrow is correct! Thanks for hanging out in Wonderopolis with us today! :-)

    • Hello, Kidlego 101! We think your idea for a future Wonder about the size of a dog affecting its age is a GREAT one! We appreciate you letting us know what kind of Wonder you’d like to explore here in Wonderopolis! :-)

    • Hi there, Jordan! We’re glad you think fireworks are cool and that you got to learn a little bit more about them by exploring today’s Wonder! :-)

    • Thanks for sharing what you know about fireworks, Landon! We’re really happy that you stopped by this Wonder today! :-)

  6. That video was awesome!!!!!!!!!!!! I was wondering how those cars didn’t get damaged from the fireworks on the bridge. ;)

    • Hi, Firebolt 101! That’s a really great question! We think the places where the fireworks were actually set off was protected from people and cars. It might just look like the fireworks are exploding over the cars. We think some more WONDERing is in order to find out for sure, though! :-)

    • That’s a GREAT question, Matthew! We’re not sure what the name of the song in the video is, but we like it a lot, too! Thanks for hanging out in Wonderopolis with us today! :-)

  7. I think tomorrow’s wonder is about the Scottish and the plaid skirts are kilts. I know this cause I am Irish myself.

    • That’s really cool, Cassidy! Thanks for sharing something about yourself with your friends in Wonderopolis today! :-)

    • Hello, Ashley! Thanks for telling us how you think fireworks are made! You’re an AMAZING Wonder Friend! :-)

    • That’s a SUPER question, Saad! The people who make fireworks know exactly which type of container shape, fuse, bursting charge and stars to use to make any shape or color fireworks they want! We really enjoy watching fireworks shows…thanks for visiting this Wonder today! :-)

    • Thanks so much for sharing the name and artist of the song in the video for this Wonder, Matthew! That was super awesome of you to do! :-)

  8. Hello! Today my wonder topic was “How are fireworks made?” Two vocabulary words that I found were aerial and barium. I found lots of new facts like China is the largest manufacturer of fireworks in the world. One fact that I thought was interesting is fireworks are made from gunpowder. I wonder who came up with the idea of fireworks. I enjoyed learning about fireworks!

    • Hi, Team Unger 20! We think it’s AWESOME that you enjoyed learning about fireworks! We did, too! Thanks so much for stopping by this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  9. Hi, Wonderopolis. The video was really fun to watch. I never knew zinc was chemistry. A ductile, bluish-white metallic element: used in making Galvanized iron, brass, and other alloys, and as an element in voltaic cells. Symbol: Zn; atomic weight: 65.37; atomic number: 30; specific gravity: 7.14 at 20°C. And that magnesium was a light, ductile, silver-white, metallic element that burns with a dazzling white light, used in lightweight alloys, flares, fireworks, in the manufacture of flashbulbs, optical mirrors, and precision instruments, and as a zinc substitute in batteries. Symbol: Mg; atomic weight: 24.312; atomic number: 12; specific gravity: 1.74 at 20°C. I never knew that fireworks had special shells to set them off. And I also never knew that there were so many chemicals in one little firework. How many manufacturing companies make fireworks? Thanks for helping me learn lots about fireworks.

    • We’re glad you had fun learning about fireworks, Team McNeil 5! Thanks so much for letting us know all the FUN facts you discovered about them! :-)

    • Thanks for letting us know you liked this Wonder, buglover…and THANKS for hanging out in Wonderopolis today! :-)

  10. On every Fourth of July, me and my family let fireworks off or we go to the High School to see them and they are very pretty! One year, we let off this one firework and it was the American flag and it said I’m glad to be free that was so COOL!

    • WOW! That does sound like a really COOL firework, Katlyn! Thank you for sharing some of your family’s 4th of July fireworks traditions with us today! :-)

  11. THIS SUMMER, I’M GOING TO MISSOURI TO GET LOTS OF FIREWORKS SO WE CAN HAVE ONE VERY NICE DAY. WONDEROPOLIS, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO JULY 4TH?

    • Thanks for sharing what you’ve got planned for the 4th of July, Jon! We’ll be stopping by Wonderopolis first of all (to start the day by celebrating learning something cool), then we will spend the day having fun with family and friends! We will probably sing, “Happy Birthday” to America, too! :-)

  12. I really liked this Wonder of the Day. Fireworks are really cool and awesome, mainly their colors. I also like their sounds.I learned that fireworks were made in China 1,000 years ago. Whoever made fireworks is a huge genius. I learned that the fireworks are made of paper and gunpowder. I learned two new vocabulary words, zinc and aerial. I still have one question after reading this article. Has there been any accidents with fireworks? Thank you for this wonderful topic.

    • Hi, Team Unger 3! Yes, unfortunately, there have been accidents with fireworks. Please make sure there are always adults around when any fireworks are used, OK? We care about all of our Wonder Friends and don’t want anyone to get hurt! :-)

    • That is called “time lapse” video, Claire! It’s video that’s shot over a long period of time and “sped up” to show that long period of time in a short period of time! We think it’s fun to see the boats go fast, too! :-)

    • We think fireworks shows are awesome to watch, too, David! Thanks for letting us know a cool fact you learned about fireworks by exploring this Wonder today! :-)

    • What a great comment you left for us today, Steven! Thanks for hanging out in Wonderopolis with us today and learning about fireworks! :-)

    • Hi, Matthew! That’s a GREAT question! There are lots of ways to record music without lyrics and add the song as a background to a video project you are working on! We suggest asking a teacher or parent to help you look for some special music composition programs and video editing software for your computer. It takes a little bit of work to learn the software programs, but we know if you try your best, you can make WONDERful music for your videos! :-)

    • You’re very welcome, Matthew! We’re glad you like hanging out in Wonderopolis and learning new things with us! Let us know how your videos turn out with their AWESOME background music (created by YOU), OK? :-)

    • We think that ROCKS, Matthew! Thanks so much for letting us know your video-making progress! We knew you could do it if you tried your best! Way to go…we’re SUPER proud of you! :-)

    • That’s GREAT, Matthew! Thanks for letting us know you liked this Wonder about fireworks. We think your comment is 100% AWESOME! :-)

    • Hello, Matthew! Thanks so much for suggesting a future Wonder about puberty! We appreciate hearing from our Wonder Friends (like you and your cousin) about the things they’d like to WONDER more about here in Wonderopolis! :-)

  13. Hi wonderopolis. Thanks for being so nice, I appreciate it. Your friend, Matthew.

    P.S CAN U MAKE A WONDER ABOUT WHY KIDS HAVE BOYFRIENDS AND GIRLFRIENDS AND WHY THEY KISS I WANT TO SHARE THIS WITH MY CLASS PLUS OUR TEACHER SHOWS US WONDEROPOLIS EVERY DAY HER NAME IS Kelly Croy. Your friend, Matthew :) :) :) :):)

    • Hello there, Matthew! Thanks so much for sharing this SUPER comment with us today and for letting us know what kind of future Wonder of the Day® you’d like to visit in Wonderopolis! Please make sure you tell Ms. Croy that we said THANK YOU for introducing you and your classmates to Wonderopolis, too…we think that ROCKS! :-)

    • We sure do appreciate this AWESOME comment you left for us, Carlos! Your creative, descriptive words help us see fireworks in our mind’s eye! We’re glad you visited this Wonder, too! Have a WONDERful weekend! :-)

    • We are “oohhhhh”ing and “ahhhh”ing over your comment today, Jalen! Thanks for sharing your passion for fireworks– they are such a cool component of a big celebration! We love WONDERing about the different senses that are affected by fireworks– sight (cool colors), sound (popping) and sometimes touch (lots of clapping)! Thanks for joining us at Wonderopolis today! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How are fireworks made?
  • When and where were fireworks invented?
  • What causes different colors in fireworks?

Wonder Gallery

fireworks_shutterstock_83727253Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready for an awesome online fireworks display? All you need is your mouse. So click — click — click your way to a fireworks show that’s uniquely your own!

If you want to learn more about the elements that are used in fireworks, particularly those used to create dazzling colors, click on over to the Periodic Table of the Elements in Fireworks. The elements used most often in fireworks are highlighted.

Just click on an element to learn more about what it does in fireworks! For example, did you know that Antimony (Sb) is used to create glitter effects in fireworks?

 

Still Wondering

Explore ReadWriteThink’s Myth and Truth: Independence Day lesson to listen to the Schoolhouse Rock song “Fireworks” and discuss how information in the lyrics compares with what you know about the Independence Day holiday.

 

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