ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Who Invented Fireworks?

Updated on November 4, 2021

Fireworks, of a kind, preceded the invention of gunpowder. These were no more than patterned displays of fire, for which there is evidence both in the West and the Far East. Thus a Chinese poem of the seventh century A.D. says:

Flames of fire move round the wheel,
Peach blossoms spring forth from the falling branches.
Clouds of smoke move around the house,
And the fairy lake reflects the floating lights.

Conceivably these fireworks were made with gunpowder, but it does not seem probable, there being no firm evidence (Wang Ling, 'The Invention and Use of Gunpowder in China', Isis, Nos. 109 and 110, 1947) that gunpowder had been invented or developed in China by the tenth century A.D.

Both in Europe and China the extensive use of gunpowder in fire displays followed its use in war, as an incendiary if not as a propellant. China has total priority. The Chinese were using gunpowder as a war incendiary by A.D. 969, after which they were certainly making fireworks and giving entertainments with them by A.D. 1103. A full description exists of a splendid many-colored display of that year.

European evidence-for using gunpowder goes back to the thirteenth century A.D., culminating in a composition suitable for use in artillery by the fourteenth century. After this gunpowder was applied to fireworks by the early years of the sixteenth century, if not before; and pyrotechnic art appears to have developed first among the Florentines and the Sienese. Thus some of the basic terminology of fireworks derives from the Italian - rocket, for example, is from the Italian rocchetta. The English engineer Cyprian Lucar wrote in 1588 of fireworks 'for triumph as well as war'; and it appears, as one might expect, that fire effects by gunpowder were added to festivals at which bonfires or fire displays had been customary. There is evidence for the association of fireworks with the old figure of May Day and the May Cycle, the Green Man, a kind of scapegoat (referred to in this volume under Wreaths). The fire man or Green Man took part in the water pageants of the Lord Mayor of London, and there is record of green men wreathed in ivy leading a procession to Chester Races on St George's Day (23 April) in 1610 and scattering fireworks as they went. Guy Fawkes Day celebrated with bonfires and fireworks on 5 November seems to be no more than the bonfire festival of Halloween (31 October) All Saints' Day (1 November) and All Souls' Day (2 November) given new vitality by the Gunpowder Plot.

In England firework manufacture was well advanced by the early years of the seventeenth century. The methods of the day are set out in the Pyrotechnia, or a discourse of artificial fireworks for pleasure of John Babington (1625). Babington's title page shows examples of quite large mechanical displays with serpents and St George and the Dragon, systems of animated figures illuminated with fireworks, an illuminated royal monogram, a device for testing the force of gunpowder and a diagram of the method for filling rockets. After dealing with these and other matters in his book he gives many sets of instructions for special displays such as 'How to make two Dragons to meet each other, from several caves, which shall send forth their fire to each other with great violence' and 'How to make a Bucklar which shall cast forth a hundred fisgigs, every one making his report'.

Fireworks continued to be an essential accompaniment of occasions of national rejoicing. At least one such an occasion has left a legacy which still gives us pleasure, in Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks composed for the London display in 1749 which celebrated the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, ending the War of the Austrian Succession.

The provision of the fireworks for these national functions was the business of the ordnance authorities. Private firework manufacture was frowned upon and many restraints were imposed, varying from local prohibitions, in the City of London, for example, to an Act of 1695 which forbade firework manufacture altogether. This merely pushed the business underground, where it went on in volume enough to meet the very large public demand, both for private use and for display in the public pleasure gardens. This unsatisfactory state of affairs persisted until some relaxation was allowed at the beginning of the nineteenth century, by way of the granting of licenses for the storing of gunpowder and made-up goods. However, it took the Acts of 1860 and 1875 to bring firework manufacture into the position of a respectable and well-regulated industry, working not only for the frivolities of the firework display, but for more serious demands of peace and war, by way of sound, color signaling, and the propulsion of rockets.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)