Who discovered fireworks?
The Chinese discovered fireworks and gunpowder about two millennia ago during the Sung Dynasty. A popular story tells how a cook stumbled upon it when he unintentionally mixed sulphur, saltpeter and charcoal. The mixture was combustible: it burned and when stored in a bamboo case exploded. This may be considered the first fireworks ever made. But not for the same purpose as fireworks are now used—in celebrations. The Chinese had a more urgent issue to deal with. They built rockets powered with this new powder and used them well against the Mongols in the 1200s.
A thousand years later, another Chinese man discovered he could make firecrackers. This time it was a Chinese monk from the city of Liu Yung, in Hu Nan province. The monk’s name was Li Tian. His achievement was so significant to the Chinese that they built a temple for him during the Song Dynasty. Since then, the Chinese have been celebrating the discovery of fireworks on April 18 by making offerings to Li Tian.
Why did the Chinese use fireworks and firecrackers? The Chinese have always been keen on finding good luck and keeping bad luck away. Every ritual or custom was meant to either drive away evil or draw in the good. Fireworks used in celebrations and holidays were no exception. The Chinese believed that the noise of fireworks could terrify evil spirits. This would send them away and leave the people safe and happy. Eventually the Chinese came to use the fireworks to frighten malevolent ghosts and spirits on every special occasion. They used fireworks in wedding feasts, births, funerals, birthdays and especially the lunar new year.
Europe discovered the black powder – and therefore fireworks – in the 13th century. The importer is said to have been either the Crusaders or traveler Marco Polo. When the Europeans got their hands on this black powder, the first thing they did was use it in weapons like rockets and canons. It was Italy and Germany that were keen on using it for making fireworks. The Italians made the fanciest pyrotechnics while the Germans focused on the technical aspects. Fireworks became a hit throughout the continent, becoming an integral part of every celebration.
To this day the fireworks tradition continues. China’s Hu Nan province remains a world leader in the manufacture of firecrackers, while Italian families still own the leading brands of fireworks in the west today. Fireworks can cause injuries, especially to children (and drunkards as well). So the sale of firecrackers is regulated in many places including the United States.