Why Do We Set Off Fireworks on the Fourth of July?

Hint: It has to do with our Founding Fathers!

Every Fourth of July, sparkly fireworks illuminate the sky. But, haven’t you always wondered why it’s a tradition to set off explosions of light in the sky on Independence Day? It’s certainly a day for celebration, but why fireworks? Why not just stick to barbeques and all things red, white, and blue? Well, you can thank famous historian John Adams for it. Here are some fascinating things you never knew about fireworks.

During the first months of the Revolutionary War, after the 13 colonies had all voted in favor of independence from Britain, Congress began to write a declaration, which became the Declaration of Independence. Before it was even finished and signed, an enthusiastic John Adams wrote in a letter to his wife stating how the occasion of America’s freedom should be celebrated. It read:

“The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of 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, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Adams was off by a few days, but the Fourth of July was most certainly celebrated in a way he would have liked. Here’s more about why July 2 should be America’s true Independence Day.

The first organized Fourth of July fireworks were set off in 1777 in Pennsylvania and Boston (Adam’s hometown) one year after the Declaration of Independence was signed. The Pennsylvania Evening Post reported that “the evening was closed with the ring of bells, and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks (which began and concluded with thirteen rockets) on the Commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated.” Boston still has one of the most spectacular fireworks shows on the Fourth and its unique history definitely plays a part in that. In the years following many more cities took part in July Fourth celebrations including speeches, parades, and picnics in addition to fireworks.

Boston showed their love for the Fourth again when they were the first to designated July 4th as an official holiday in 1783. Then, in the 1800s fireworks started to become available to the public and the sky become even more illuminated on the Fourth. And in 1870, Congress followed making Independence Day a federal holiday.

The bright colors and loud bangs are the perfect way to celebrate America’s freedom year after year. Even though the 4th might be a little different this year, here’s how you can have a fun 4th of July staycation.

Chee Sim/EyeEm/Getty Images

Why Are Dogs So Scared of Fireworks?

Popular Videos

Morgan Cutolo
Morgan is an Associate Editor at Reader’s Digest. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2016 where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. She writes for rd.com, helps lead the editorial relationship with our partners, manages our year-round interns, and keeps the hundreds of pieces of content our team produces every month organized. In her free time, she likes exploring the seacoast of Maine where she lives and works remotely full time and snuggling up on the couch with her corgi, Eggo, to watch HGTV or The Office.