You can now read 5 articles in a month for free on BostonGlobe.com. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

Evan Horowitz

How many fireworks do we use on Fourth of July?

Fireworks over the Charles River.

Globe File/1997

Fireworks over the Charles River.

The Fourth of July commemorates independence, liberty, and opportunity. But it’s also about fireworks. Lots of fireworks.

The sparkler you purchase in town may not seem that powerful, but if you gathered all the fireworks Americans will set off this week they’d weigh more than the Statue of Liberty, cost more than a Powerball jackpot, and release more energy than 100,000 bolts of lightning.

How many fireworks are we talking about?

Continue reading below

During last year’s Fourth of July celebrations, Americans lit about 200 million pounds worth of fireworks, according to the American Pyrotechnic Association. How much is 200 million pounds? Heavier than the Washington monument and four times the weight of the USS Intrepid.

How much money do we spend on these things?

Consumers alone spent about $695 million on fireworks in 2014. That’s more than the state of Massachusetts devotes to early education, though far less than the cost of a modern aircraft carrier.

How much firepower do all these fireworks have?

Fireworks are filled with an explosive material called “black powder,” or what used to be called gunpowder. They need black powder to get off the ground and additional powder to burst into beauty.

About 50 percent of an average consumer firework consists of black powder and other, similar explosives, according to Mike Hiskey, a Ph.D. in explosive chemistry whose company, DMD systems, made fireworks for the Sochi Olympics. With professional devices, it’s more like 90 percent.

Putting those numbers together, we can calculate that inside the 200 million pounds of fireworks there is about 110 million pounds of black powder. And 110 million pounds of black powder contains about 140 terajoules of energy, according to Hiskey. (A joule is a basic unit of energy, just like a meter is a basic unit of length. A terajoule is a trillion joules.) That is more energy than 100,000 lightning bolts.

Does this mean fireworks are extremely dangerous?

Fireworks can be quite dangerous. In 2014, 11 people died as a result of firework injuries and 10,500 were injured.

The risks are particularly acute for young children, because even small fireworks can be more powerful than they appear. The seemingly benign sparklers, for instance, can burn as hot as 2,000 degrees.

What else should I be watching for?

Last year, Boston’s big fireworks show included about 5,000 pounds of explosive material, which roughly translates to the same amount of energy your heart will expend during your entire lifetime.

Ultimately, though, it’s not the energy that captivates. It’s the bursting beauty of the sky, with its rich colors, stunning sounds, and evanescent shapes. High-quality fireworks rely on a blend of art and science, and the recipes behind them are often closely guarded secrets, handed down from master to apprentice over years and generations.

Still, as you peer up at the blazing sky this Fourth of July, it’s worth keeping in mind the magnitude of American’s passion for fireworks. To celebrate independence day, we set off a massive nationwide explosion that turns 200 million pounds of raw material into a rich display of light, sound, and power.

Evan Horowitz digs through data to find information that illuminates the policy issues facing Massachusetts and the U.S. He can be reached at evan.horowitz@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHorowitz
Loading comments...
Subscriber Log In

We hope you've enjoyed your 5 free articles'

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Already a subscriber?
Your city. Your stories. Your Globe.
Yours FREE for two weeks.
Enjoy free unlimited access to Globe.com for the next two weeks.
Limited time only - No credit card required!
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.
Thanks & Welcome to Globe.com
You now have unlimited access for the next two weeks.
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.