We have President John Adams to thank for this iconic tradition.

By Emily VanSchmus
Updated April 20, 2021
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Fireworks are the most iconic symbol of the Fourth of July. After all, no Independence Day celebration is complete without a few red, white, and blue explosions in the sky at the end of the night. But have you ever wondered why we celebrate the holiday with colorful explosives? We did some digging, and it turns out fireworks were used to celebrate the first anniversary of the holiday in 1777. Ever since Americans have proudly shot fireworks into the night sky every Fourth of July. 

Fourth of July fireworks over water
Credit: Dovapi/Getty Images

The Fourth of July celebrates the date on which the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress in 1776. And while there were no fireworks in the air on the day the founding fathers signed their names to the famous document, we actually have President John Adams to thank for our loud and colorful tradition. 

Before signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Adams wrote a letter to his wife Abigail, saying the date “will be the most memorable epocha, in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary festival,” he wrote. “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, forevermore.”

As a founding father and leader of the American Revolution (and second president of the United States) Adams was well known across the colonies, so his wish for a large celebration was shared far and wide. And so on the first anniversary of the holiday, colonists celebrated all across the nation. The first-ever recorded Fourth of July party was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 4, 1777, and like Adams had envisioned, included illuminations, bells, a parade, and explosions. After a 13-gun salute to honor each of the 13 colonies, the military band performed, bells were rung, and 13 firework rockets were set off in the town square. 

Since then, there hasn’t been an Independence Day celebrated without fireworks. And while we still might not be back to in-person shows this summer, you'll still be able to celebrate this centuries-old tradition (even if you have to enjoy them on a virtual stream or with social distancing guidelines instead). 

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