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We’re often asked how those exploding stars in the sky appear as heart shapes, or change from one colour to another, or how we manage to get the fireworks to burst on the exact beat of a piece of music. Fireworks are often thought of as one of the black arts, a bit of sky magic conjured up by a man with a long flowing beard waving a wand. Well there are a few people in the fireworks industry still answering to that description! However the magic wand has been replaced by wireless technology and the blue touch paper by an electrical impulse. But while the displays you see today are very much part of the new digital age their roots are firmly grounded in an ancient discovery in China, the explosive mix that became known as gunpowder. No-one is quite sure how it came about but the most likely explanation is that someone in 10th China, possibly while cooking, noticed the violent reaction when bringing a meat preservative such as Potassium Nitrate into contact with an open fire.

Before long this alarming effect was being used to ward off evil spirits and the Chinese cracker was born. Gunpowder’s constituents of Potassium Nitrate (75%), Sulphur (10%) and Charcoal (15%) were soon established and its use for military purposes gradually spread west. It took a few more centuries for the formula to be used as an entertainment in Europe. Italy is credited with this development and is still recognised today as a world leader in the pyrotechnic art. Instead of blue touch paper, computer systems like the American FireOne can be programmed to fire effects with millisecond precision.


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