How a Fireworks Magician Tames Dynamite

Here’s a pretty cool old article at Modern Mechanix. I just hate that I didn’t see it in time to post for the July 4th holiday. It’s a Modern Mechanix magazine 1934 article about how fireworks speciailists deal with dynamite in a safe manner.

Flaming dynamite and exploding mortars are the chief tools of the fireworks expert. In this vivid, intimate story one of the aces of the fireworks army takes you behind the scenes to reveal, for the first time, the thrills and dangers of his roaring trade.

MILLIONS of Americans thrill yearly to the glittering wheels, flaming rockets and spectacular bombs of the giant fireworks displays; but the men who fire them are the men nobody knows—the world’s most mysterious showmen. . . .“One of the important things to keep in mind about fireworks,” said Briese, “is the difference between display work and the over-the-counter business—that is, the sale of firecrackers, pin wheels, rockets and the – like to the consumer. Accidents are far less frequent in display work because trained men do the firing.

“The noise-makers are the most dangerous pieces. In fact, a stick of dynamite is about the most hazardous unit we employ.

. . .

“The worst accidents in the fireworks business occur at the factories but they are rare now. Only small quantities of material are Handled at a time and most of the work is done in isolated sheds, spotted over a . wide area. These sheds are of flimsy construction. If an explosion does occur, the walls and roof give way, reducing the shock to any persons inside. The big display sets with all their sparks and fire may look hazardous but they are not as dangerous as the simple sticks of dynamite and the bombs. A big display may contain a ton of material but only 300 or 400 pounds of this may be explosive powder. Chemicals make up the balance of the material; and whereas they’ll burn, of course, they won’t explode violently.

. . .

How Displays Are Fired

“Shooters wear no special safety equipment, not even goggles.. The firing is done with a ‘port fire’ a five-foot flare made of two rocket sticks spliced together. It burns about five minutes and gives plenty of brilliant light so the operator can see the ‘match,’ or fuse, where the piece is set off. Sometimes part of the set doesn’t go off because of a broken connection. We keep watch for this and reach up with a port fire and start it going.

Fascinating. A very good, if somewhat lengthy, read on how fireworks shows are (or were in 1934 at least) put together.

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