Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fireworks

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fireworks

Article excerpt

Just before the first Independence Day celebration in 1777, John Adams predicted in a letter to his wife, Abigail, that Fourth of July fireworks would become an enduring American tradition. Adams envisioned "bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more." Thanks to advances in chemistry, we're now enjoying bursts of brilliant hues that Adams could only have imagined.

Fireworks long have been available in any color you would want, as long as it was orange, that is. Then in the 1830s, Italian chemists discovered how to mask the orange color of gunpowder by adding trace amounts of salts to the recipe. Salts are ionic compounds consisting of a metal and a non-metal. Scientists could now choose from various salts, each with a different metal that emits a signature color when burned, such as sodium (gold), lithium (pink) or barium (green). Meanwhile the metal magnesium, which burns white hot, was unlocked from minerals and brine using electricity. …

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