Americans love things that sparkle, things that glow, and especially things that blow up. So it makes sense that on America’s birthday, we take great pride in our various spectacles of light and noise. Today, there are countless YouTube videos and how-to websites showing how to create your own firecrackers and noisemakers. But back in the 1920s, it was the medium of magazines (remember those?) that spearheaded the DIY fireworks movement. And their advice was utterly insane.
The July 1925 issue of Science and Invention magazine included a full page of illustrations showing how to make everything from a roll of caps for your cap gun to a swirling steel wool sparkler. The magazine claimed that they were all relatively safe (they’re not), and could even save you money during your Fourth of July festivities:
The joys of celebrating the Fourth of July can be greatly increased by making your own fireworks and noise makers. Those described on this page are safe and it is only necessary to use a few simple precautions where explosive materials are being used. Another advantage of these home-made fireworks is that by their use you can reduce your yearly expenditure for the celebration of Independence Day considerably.
I can’t stress enough how dangerous even the most seemingly innocuous chemicals can be when not handled properly. Needless to say, it’s better to be safe than sorry and don’t try any of this at home.
Very fair imitation sparklers can be made as shown above. Affix a long mass of steel wool as at the left above to a bent iron rod. Light the end of the wool and twirl about in the air in order to produce sufficient air current to burn the steel. Do not use this indoors.
Caps for cap pistols and other noise making devices of a similar nature may be made as follows and as illustrated above. Powder together 7 parts of potassium chlorate, 3 parts of sulphur and 2 parts of black antimony sulphide. Moisten with thin glue and spot the solution on a glued paper strip as above. Cover with another strip of moistened glued paper and allow to dry.
Glass Water Bombs
Glass water bombs when detonated make a terrific noise. They are made by sealing water in a glass tube as at the left. The tube should be about 1/4 of an inch in diameter. Cool and slowly heat on an iron plate over a fire. Steam will be generated and the tube will explode. Stand away from flying glass.
Wicks and Fuses
A fuse for igniting various fireworks can be made as shown above. Moisten five parts of saltpeter, 3 parts of charcoal and 1 part of sulphur with thin glue after having powdered the dry ingredients. Spread this mixture on a soft cotton string and allow the finished fuse to dry before use.
Invisible Fire Pictures
Invisible fire pictures afford much indoor fun. Draw a picture or design on white paper with a solution of saltpeter or potassium nitrate. When dry, nothing is visible, but the figure immediately comes to light when a glowing cigarette is touched to one of the lines.
A safe and simple noise maker can be made from a key and nail as shown in the above illustration. Fill the hole in the end of the key with scrapings from the heads of matches. A wire frame should first be made to hold the nail and the key together as shown. Now with the material in the hole in the key, introduce the nail as shown, place on a hard surface and hit the end of the key a sharp blow with a hammer. A loud report will result.
There are a number of different videos on YouTube showing off what happens when you set barium chlorate and shellac on fire. But you wouldn’t catch me doing any of this stuff in an enclosed garage.
To make various colored fires, use the chemicals mentioned below, mixing well together with a knife without rubbing. For green fire, use 90 parts by weight of barium chlorate and 10 parts of powdered dry orange shellac. For red fire, use 8 parts strontium nitrate, 3 parts potassium chlorate and 1 part powdered shellac. These may be made into colored fire candles by placing in a card- board case as at left and inserting a fuse for igniting.
Again, I can’t stress strongly enough that playing with things that sparkle and boom is incredibly dangerous. Don’t be stupid. Explaining that you lost an eye or a few fingers with a homemade sparkler would be a really dumb story that you’d have to tell for the rest of your life.