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Fireworks are nearly always a key part of our 4th of July activities in America — but ask most people if they know where this tradition began, and they may not know the answer.
The vision for the celebratory tradition actually dates back to 1776.
That is when then-future second president John Adams imagined — in a letter to his wife, Abigail — that a sparkling sky would honor the soon-to-be independent 13 colonies every year from that point onward.
The man who would become the second president of the U.S. wrote, in part, on July 3, 1776, “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.”
He also wrote, “It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more,” according to the National Archives.
Just one day later, on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted by delegates to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
While some public recitations of the Declaration of Independence were greeted with “impromptu celebrations” from local militia in Pennsylvania and New Jersey on July 8, a formal pyrotechnics display would not light up the sky for another year, according to History.com.
In 1777, patriotic revelry rocked the first organized Fourth of July celebrations in Philadelphia — with fireworks dramatically lighting up the night sky.
“The evening was closed with the ringing of bells … and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks (which began and concluded with 13 rockets) on the Commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated,” according to the Pennsylvania Evening Post.
“Everything was conducted with the greatest order and decorum, and the face of joy and gladness was universal.”
City officials in Boston also set off fireworks on July 4, 1777.
Fireworks became available for sale to the public in 1783, the Farmer’s Almanac reported, and the tradition has lived on ever since then.
This year, in 2022, buyers will spend about $2.3 billion on fireworks on the Fourth of July, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association.
However, that does not mean everyone will be setting off fireworks.
The skies over some western U.S. cities will stay dark for the third consecutive Fourth of July this year, as some major fireworks displays are canceled again in 2022.
Some displays are nixed over wildfire concerns amid dry weather — while others are canceled because of enduring pandemic-related staffing and supply chain issues.
“Unless you’re in a really remote area where that was the only show, most people will be able to find a show nearby.”
Phoenix, Arizona, for example, canceled its three major Independence Day displays because it couldn’t obtain professional-grade fireworks, the Associated Press reported.
Shows in several other cities around Phoenix are still scheduled.
“Unless you’re in a really remote area where that was the only show, most people will be able to find a show nearby,” Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, according to the AP.
Overseas shipping, transportation in the U.S., rising insurance costs and labor shortages have led to the canceled displays — along with demand for fireworks shows at concerts, sports stadiums and the Fourth of July holiday that largely were absent during the first two years of the pandemic, she also said.
Many local jurisdictions have banned the use of fireworks amid a drought, even with an early start of the annual rainy season that already has led to flooding in the U.S. Southwest, the AP noted as well.
Fireworks are always prohibited in national forests.
Those who plan to set off consumer-grade fireworks such as bottle rockets, firecrackers and ground-level fountains at home can expect to pay more for them.
Costs are up 35% across the industry, the American Pyrotechnic Association estimates.
The Associated Press, along with Janine Puhak, contributed reporting to this article.