Gunpowder was first invented over a millennia ago, while fireworks themselves have been used for public and religious celebrations in the UK since the late 16th century and in the Far East their use dates back to AD 800’s. While there has been significant change over that time in the chemistry and manufacturing of fireworks, progress and development in recent years has not been the manufacturing of fireworks, but the introduction of modern technology that has revolutionised how firework displays are set up and fired.
Up until very recently, most firework displays would have been hand fired where complex or large public displays would utilise pyrotechnic delays so that one fuse could be hand lit initiating a fuse which would start a chain reaction firing shells in a set sequence, once started the sequence was virtually impossible to stop.
In the early seventies and eighties, electrical firing of displays started to appear and become more commonplace. The advent of electrical igniters gave rise to a greater degree of control as well as firing multiple cues at one time. Electrical firing systems of the day were very primitive, the simplest firing system would involve a nail board with wires running to a numbered nail and a car battery would be used to pass a charge firing the circuit, up to a maximum of about 6 to 8 igniters.
There were a number of manual firing boards and sequencers developed, but they were mainly designed in house and came in many different guises, there was no real standard across the industry. The typical display set up would entail mile upon mile of two core bell wire running from the firing box and out to the firing site picking up the igniters of all the fireworks, as can be seen in this image of Darryl testing the 102 firing circuits of one of the barges that fired the VJ Day Celebrations in 1995.
In the late 1990’s the computer firing systems began to appear on the market place which would revolutionise the way displays are fired, in the early days multicore cable was required making rigging a large display time consuming and expensive, but the advent of two wire digital technology from FireOne, arguably the market leader for the provision of computer fired firing systems, has allowed very complex and intricate displays to be fired where any number of igniters from many firing positions located over a wide area can be ignited all at the same time or a fast chase where each position is initiated one after the other with only a few hundred micro seconds delay between each cue, no better example of this technology exits than the highly complex and extensive displays at London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Ceremonies, below is an image of Darryl at the control position ready to fire the lift for the Queen declaring the games open at the Olympic Opening Ceremony, located on the roof of the Olympic Stadium.
Technological advances continue abound and like all industries, the use of this technology continues to revolutionise firework displays. The advent of wireless technology now allows for even more complex installations where running data cable is virtually impossible, or computer chips now inserted inside the aerial star shell to ensure the precise height and burst of a shell with unprecedented accuracy, allowing Disney to create the outline of Mickey Mouse’s Head with two ears from three different shell bursts. We look forward to how future technology can continue to influence and shape the future for firework displays.