The brains behind the boom

Photos courtesy Garden State Fireworks


By Anthony J. Machcinski

This week, millions of Americans will take to their local hillside or open field in order to celebrate the 236th birthday of America to watch an aerial spectacle as big as the birthday it honors.

Fireworks date back as far as possibly the Han dynasty in China around 200 B.C., but the Americanized version celebrating our country dates to America’s first birthday in 1777. According to, Founding Father John Adams said that the Fourth of July “ought to be solemnized with pop and parade…bonfires and illuminations (a term for fireworks)…from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

Fast forward 236 years and the art of fireworks is as vibrant as ever, with aerial displays that artists of the 1700s couldn’t even dream of.

Photos courtesy Garden State Fireworks


Even technology, as simple as black powder and other formulas, has become so advanced, that even 20-minute pyrotechnics (the average time of many such events in the area), will take several days to perfect.

“Timing is everything,” explains third-generation fireworks expert Nunzio Santore, whose family has been in the business of creating displays for the past 123 years.

Garden State Fireworks, where Santore is the coowner, will be orchestrating the Fourth of July celebration for State Fair Meadowlands on July 3 and 4. The event is another challenge for the company that has won awards in Canada, France, and Spain.

Creating these fireworks is an art form in its own right, and could stack up with many other forms of art in its beauty and brilliance. As Santore explained, it’s not just throwing everything together. “You have to back-choreograph it (working from the back of the display to the beginning) in order to make sure that the shells will explode into the air at the right time.”

The average time spent on preparing displays depends on the type of display it is. Some displays, described as the traditional style by Santore, are organized around an opening, where different effects and displays are used, and a finale, which “always has to be the strongest part of the show.”

Other displays, and often the more time consuming of the styles, are musicals. Musicals combine music with the firework display. Timing is even more crucial during these shows in order to correctly line up the moment in the song with its aerial barrage. These displays rely on computers paired with back-choreographing in order to provide the precision needed to wow an audience.

Photos courtesy Garden State Fireworks


Along with the timing goes the creation of the actual firework as well. While every display and firework is different, the construction of the firework is generally the same. Each firework contains a bursting charge, stars, a fuse, and a delay, along with a black powder charge to propel the shell into the air.

The shell of a firework is a strong casing that protects the inside of the firework, a delay ignites the burst charge at the right time, then the burst charge ignites the stars, or effects, which are placed in the exact order that the producer wants them to explode.

Different colors are created by adding a chemical to the formula. Santore explained that among other colors, blues are formulated from a copper base and silvers, from a titanium or aluminum base.

While the technology has advanced since Augustine Santore first opened his fireworks plant in 1890, his descendants still keep many of his original formulas.

“Our formulations are very old, but are much safer than when (my grandfather) used them,” Santore explained.

Over the years, fireworks have become not only a celebration of America, but a metaphor for what America is – an ethnically diverse nation where everyone has his or her own part in the larger display. When watching the several displays across our area, appreciate the artistic freedom each group has, and most of all, celebrate the freedom we have as a nation to put on these displays.

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