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Why We Set Off Fireworks On The Fourth Of July

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PEOPLE WATCHING FIREWORKS
Blend Images - Granger Wootz via Getty Images
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Ever wondered why we set off those humungous kaleidoscopes of gunpowder in our sky each Fourth of July? Apparently, the history of fireworks in America is as old the country itself.

On our first Independence Day celebration, held in Philadelphia on July 4, 1777, when the country was still in the midst of the Revolutionary War against Britain, citizens came together to watch their new nation's sky illuminated in a grand display meant to raise spirits.

"I think they wanted to create a morale booster, and it worked," James R. Heintze, author of The Fourth of July Encyclopedia, told USA Today. "The news spread, and Fourth of July celebrations with fireworks took hold quickly in other places."

One of our Founding Fathers had even predicted that Americans would commemorate their independence with pomp and circumstance. On July 3, 1776, a day ahead of the Continental Congress' adoption of the final version of the Declaration of Independence, Massachusetts delegate John Adams penned a letter to his wife, envisioning the festivities.

"I am apt to believe that [Independence Day] will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival," he wrote. "It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. 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."

But that first fireworks display was a far cry from today's elaborate, choreographed pyrotechnic shows.

From USA Today: "The centerpieces were raised platforms covered with fireworks arranged to evoke patriotic images -- George Washington's profile, for example. There were some rockets, but they were crude by contemporary standards."

Fireworks certainly have grown and not only in complexity. The American Pyrotechnics Association (APA) estimates that more than 14,000 fireworks displays light up the nation's sky each Independence Day.

If only John Adams could see 'Murica's birthday parties now!

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CORRECTION: This article previously misstated the chronology of Adams' letter. He was in fact referencing the Continental Congress' initial adoption of an earlier draft of the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776. Independence Day has been officially celebrated on July 4, as the date of the adoption of the declaration in its final version.