So many holidays, festivities and celebrations couldn’t be imagined without the sizzle of sparklers. This hand-held firework has an unexpected history and underrated place in our culture. Today, we are taking a deep dive to uncover a lot of interesting topics surrounding sparklers, including how they are made, how they came to be, and how they are safe enough even for kids to hold!
Brief History And Origin
Sparklers weren’t always harmless sizzling party favors for a toast. Originally, they were supposed to toast enemy ships!
It is believed that the creator of sparklers was a Greek architect by the name of Callinicos of Heliopolis, who invented them around 670 AD. He made a firework weapon called a cheirosiphon, which was first designed to fend off arriving enemy ships. It was a hand-held firework that could shoot flames towards the enemy. It was also known as Greek Fire, which you may have heard about on History Channel, for example.
The modern version was ‘sparked’ (intentionally) in Germany around 1850, and was called wunderkerzen. Those sparklers were essentially a wire dipped in gunpowder. At the turn of the 19th century, it was introduced to the American population at a big exposition. The German sparklers were the absolute highlight of that event, and were given to children who showed great joy and had fun with them.
And that’s how the tradition was born. But more about that later. The fact that until a century ago sparklers were made with gunpowder might have spooked some readers. Don’t worry, that’s not the case anymore. Here’s how modern sparklers are made.
The Science Behind How Modern Sparklers Are MadeCompared to old sparklers that used gunpowder, contemporary sparklers are composed of 3 fundamental components:
- Metal Fuel - Which reacts with oxygen to produce sparks, and gives color depending on the exact element
- Oxidizers - Which release oxygen molecules to fuel the chemical reaction
- Binders - Which hold the whole mixture together, like cement in construction
To put it simply, a sparkler is a thin shaft, usually an iron wire, which is coated in a flammable paste. That paste consists of the 3 aforementioned components, each playing a crucial role.
Colorful Sparks Come From Different Metals
Metal fuel contributes to the color of the sparks emitted by burning. Metals most often used for sparklers are:
Iron - Gives an Orange/Red glow
Aluminum and Magnesium - White/Yellow color
Titanium - Silver
Ferrotitanium - Golden
There are other colorants which are metal salts. They are used to make sparks of various different colors as well (like Green for example).
Next come - the oxidizers. Potassium nitrate is used most commonly. When a sparkler is heated, oxidizers start to decompose and produce oxygen. During the process, small pieces of metal are released and generate the well-known popping and sizzling sound.
Finally, to keep it all together, come the binders. All of the components previously mentioned would be in vain without something to bind them all together. The most frequently used one is dextrin, a low-molecular carbohydrate. Its role is to slow the burning down, making it steady, last longer, more and enjoyable to watch!
More Shapes Than You Can Imagine
It’s worth noting that the sparkler rod isn’t all that one dimensional. By twisting it during production, a myriad of interesting designs are created. You’ve surely experienced some like letter or number shaped sparklers at a birthday or anniversary, but there’s even more. The ones we love the most and proudly display are Star-shaped and Heart-shaped sparklers.
How Did Sparklers Reach The Mainstream?
As mentioned, sparklers started to become prominent at the turn of the 19th century. That’s a relatively short period of time, compared to a lot of other things that go in and out of fashion. Hence, the popularity of sparklers is still on the rise.
Holiday Themed Sparklers For Any Occasion
People enjoy them at every occasion, and celebrations such as birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and more. They’ve also become an important cultural staple and an integral part of our holidays. Independence Day in the US, Guy Fawkes Night in the UK, or Diwali, the festival of lights, all regularly involve sparklers. Additionally, at TOPS Malibu, we created special sparkler series for other holidays and occasions: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, New Year’s Toasts, and even Graduation!
We create sparklers of the highest quality, with a clean, steady burning, without black smoke or residue. To offer you something for every special occasion, our artists create sparklers in a variety of shapes, styles, and finishes - including golden sparklers!
Sparklers as Travel and Hospitality Gifts
Today, the entertainment and hospitality industries are finding new ways to make the customer experience more enjoyable. So they’ve decided to use sparklers in order to boost the whole experience of a night out or a simple meal. Designing desserts in restaurants with them, and bringing them along with bottles in clubs or bars.
Sparklers In Art and Popular Culture
Some art groups use the symbolic number of 10,000 sparklers to celebrate positive values and feelings such as brightness, warmth and creativity.
In 1999, two artists named Tobias Kipp and Timo Pitkamo started doing portraits with the use of burning sparklers on paper. This art style belongs to the freehand art of pyrography. They have drawn over 20 thousand portraits since!
Sparklers Are A Lot Of Fun, But Are They Safe?
With any enjoyment, safety comes first! Sparklers are safe for use, as all they require is a steady hand. However, it is highly recommended that any child using sparklers is supervised by an adult, and that children under 5 do not hold them.
Safety From A Science View
When a sparkler is lit, its body rises to a very high temperature and starts showering sparks which retain a portion of that thermal energy. However, individual sparks have a ridiculously tiny mass, meaning that they completely evaporate within a fraction of a second. The huge thermal energy of the sparks combined with their miniscule mass means that the heat leaves their body at an incredible rate. Even if a spark were to fall on your skin, it will almost certainly burn up into the air before it can burn you.
That being said, be careful with touching the rod, as the metal base usually keeps the heat for a longer period of time. Look to hold it firmly, but as far down the rod as possible.
As discussed, sparklers involve a lot of chemistry. However, there is nothing inherently toxic in using sparklers as intended. TOPS Malibu sparklers are food grade safe and can be used as toppers for cakes with absolutely no worry.
Do You Long To Hold A Sparkler Again?
If reading about sparklers struck you with nostalgia for holding one like in the good ol’ days, you can check out the rest of our site and see if you’d like to light one up. Maybe you end up having a sparkler toast with your friends or family for the next gathering!
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