"The day will be the most memorable in America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.... It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade... bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this day forward, forevermore."

That is what John Adams penned in a letter to his wife after the Continental Congress proclaimed the American colonies independent from Britain. Since then, Americans have celebrated the fourth of July with tremendous displays of fireworks across the country. It has become one of the greatest and most popular American traditions, and it is not uncommon to see fireworks cracking and illuminating the skies even in places where they are illegal. [Their legal status is regulated everywhere, to some degree or another]

Every year fervent patriots begin an early hunt for fireworks, as the date approaches to keep this American tradition alive and make it bigger and better than the year before. Proof of this is that fireworks have exploded to close to a billion-dollar industry in recent years, doubling its revenues from ten years ago. Surprisingly enough, this spectacular component of this great American tradition is not American, but foreign in origin instead; most fireworks are manufactured in China, Mexico and some places in Europe. Little production is American, mainly due to the excruciating local and federal regulations and high insurance premiums associated with manufacturing what are technically “ordnance”. The stringent regulations include special types of coverage for workers compensation and transportation and storage that may cause costs to skyrocket. In the U.S., only five companies account for eighty percent of the national production, which adds another barrier to entry for those domestic companies that want to compete for a share of the market.

Beyond Fourth of July celebrations, fireworks have started to play a big role in showcasing many other events and celebrations. Disney World has being using fireworks since the ‘50s for major productions and has been a pioneer in using compressed air launchers and timers to synchronize explosions. As of today Disney is the largest consumer of fireworks in the U.S. and a benchmark for the industry, although the record for the largest display belongs to the Kentucky Derby Festival with the “Thunder Over Louisville” event, whose pyrotechnic show lasts for over half an hour, and estimated attendance size approaches the one-million mark every year.

With shows of this caliber, which can cost up to a half-million dollars per show, and the thousands of smaller displays across the nation, such as concerts and sporting events, there is no doubt that the industry is gaining momentum, although at the same time costs are increasing and regulations are tightening. This is why many productions are reverting to alternative resources (such as lasers, projectors and music) that, combined with smaller pyrotechnical displays, can generate more complex and diverse sequences that amaze and entertain the crowds as much as any fireworks-only show.

Shows organizers have also found solutions to abate the spiraling costs in near shoring; Mexico is becoming a major supplier of fireworks to the U.S. by reducing lead times and risks and the cost and complexity of shipping, in contrast to the ramifications of shipping from China. Mexico offers better solutions, as there is no need to consolidate shipments with other merchandise coming in big container ships and exposing the rest of the cargo to a major explosion during a thirty-day trip. Instead, fireworks can be transported much more safely by road in smaller trailer shipments, which reduces insurance premiums and risks by traveling fewer miles in only a couple of days.

Regardless of how fireworks get here, they will continue to rocket up as crowd pleasers at many events, so, for this coming 4th of July, don’t forget the great words of James Sousa: “"You can look up at the stars and every night they're going to be in the same place, but you can launch a six-inch shell and you don't really know what it's going to look like until it actually performs."
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Diego De la Garza

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