Everyone around the world loves to watch fireworks, yet very few know that it was the ancient Chinese that invented them.
They began to experiment with fireworks and then developed them in 202 B.C. as part of a Daoist religious ceremony.
The Daoists studied chemicals and elements in a science form called alchemy. During the Han dynasty, the emperors begged the Daoists to find an element that would allow them to live forever.
The discovery of fireworks was the result of their experimentation in finding this element; but it took a long time to perfect it.
The Daoist scientists made fireworks by combining sulfur and potassium nitrate (saltpeter). While this combination and no other that they ever found could guarantee immortality, they did create the base product for fireworks.
It wasn’t until 220 A.D. that members of the Song dynasty (11th century) added the additional element of charcoal to the mixture that created a closer idea of fireworks.
Once they discovered that charcoal was the final ingredient needed for an explosion, they would mix up the elements and throw them into a fire. This created a lot of popping and sparks.
The chemical potassium nitrate makes things burn and gives the fireworks the energy that it requires to burst out of a container or to explode.
When you hear that bang from fireworks, it’s the potassium nitrate. Sulfur is a gas that is used to make the fireworks spray out from the container and yes, it’s that same horrible rotten egg smell.
Charcoal is what we get when we burn wood slowly and it’s what burns when the fire touches the fireworks.
The Chinese eventually figured out that if they added the three elements to bamboo tubes or hollowed out wood and then threw them into a fire it would cause the explosions to move the wood high into the air and the sparks would leap from the ends of the wood.
This was used during nighttime celebrations when the sparks would light up the night sky. To get the colors that we see in today’s fireworks additional metals must be added. Each metal offers a different color.
What are the three main ingredients for the original ancient Chinese fireworks?
sulfur, potassium nitrate (saltpeter) and charcoal
What was the original purpose that the Daoists were requested when they discovered fireworks?
an element to live forever for the emperor
What did the ancient Chinese use fireworks for?
to scare off evil spirits and to bring about prosperity
What chemical makes the rotten egg smell?
What did the ancient Chinese add fireworks to so that they would explode into the sky?
hollowed out wood or bamboo
What do you have to add to fireworks to get the various colors?