The First Fireworks on the Fourth of July

Researched by James R. Heintze. All Rights Reserved. American University, Washington, D.C.

Congress led the way for the encouragement of fireworks on the Fourth of July by authorizing a display on July 4, 1777, in Philadelphia, a year after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. “At night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks, which began and concluded with thirteen rockets on the commons. Another colorful display took place in Philadelphia on July 4, 1779: “In the evening a sett [sic] of brilliant fireworks were exhibited, particularly excellent rockets, which, after ascending to an amazing height in the air, burst, and displayed thirteen stars.”

The first fireworks in Boston took place on July 4, 1777. A newspaper reported: “In the evening Col. Crafts illuminated his park on the commons, threw several shells, and exhibited a number of fireworks.” Boston had another display in 1779 when thirteen rockets were fired.

Worcester, Massachusetts, planned for its first fireworks display on July 4, 1779. “In the evening the Court House will be illuminated and there will be an exhibition of fireworks.” By 1783, fireworks were available for sale to the public in Philadelphia. Jean Leaguay, a local merchant advertised “a large and curious assortment of fireworks.” In 1784, Mr. Laugby was advertising various kinds of fireworks to the public, including "rockets, serpents, wheels, table rockets, cherry trees, fountains, and sun flowers."

Charleston, South Carolina, reported an evening “grand display of fireworks” on July 4, 1783, “under the direction of Col. Senf.” Due to fear of the fireworks staring a fire, “all the [fire] engines were ordered out, and placed in different parts of the town.”

In New York in 1786, the Common Council met on June 28 and agreed that on July 4, “on account of the danger of fire,” there were to be no “fireworks of any kind in the evening.” That year, Charleston, South Carolina, enacted a similar proclamation regarding its Fourth of July revelry. “And whereas illuminating the city, or throwing squibs or other fire works in the streets of the same, may endanger the buildings thereof, all persons whatsoever, are hereby strictly forbid from illuminating the city, or throwing any fireworks or combustible matter, in the streets thereof, on the evenings of the twenty-eight instant, or fourth of July next.

Sources: Virginia Gazette, 18 July 1777; Pennsylvania Evening Post, 24 July 1777, 390; Boston Gazette, 7 July 1777 and 12 July 1779; Providence Gazette, 2 August 1777, 4; Independent Ledger, 26 July 1779, 2; Massachusetts Spy, 8 July 1779, 3; Pennsylvania Gazette, 28 May 1783; South Carolina Gazette and General Advertiser, 5 July 1783, 4; Pennsylvania Packet, 18 May 1784, 3; Charleston Morning Post, 1 July 1786, 3; Daily Advertiser, 3 July 1786, 3 This page last updated July 2009.

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