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Why We Launch Fireworks on the Fourth of July

Loading up the family and heading out to the fireworks stand, you might have fielded this question a time or two from an inquisitive toddler: why do we shoot off fireworks every Fourth of July? 

The tradition spans centuries, dating back to the very first celebration of America's independence.

The Massachusetts Historical Society even found an old letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams the day before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, envisioning what he hoped the celebrations would become in the years to come.

"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 forever more," Adams wrote to his wife on July 3, 1776.

And sure enough, the star-spangled day's fiery tribute spread like wildfire.

James Heintze, the author of "The Fourth of July Encyclopedia," resurfaced some of the earliest reports of gunpowder being shot during celebrations on July 25, 1776. The Virginia Gazette described crowds gathering in Williamsburg for a military parade with the firing of cannon gunpowder.

One year later, 13 fireworks were shot high above the city of Philadelphia to commemorate the anniversary.

"About noon all the armed ships and gallies in the river were drawn up before the city, dressed in the gayest manner, with the colours of the United States and streamers displayed," the Virginia Gazette wrote on July 4, 1777. "At one o'clock, the yards being properly manned, they began the celebration of the day by a discharge of thirteen cannon from each of the ships, and one from each of the thirteen gallies, in honour of the Thirteen United States."

And the rest is history.

Today, firework shows are a central part of Fourth of July celebrations in cities and towns across America.

Find a fireworks display around the Bay Area.

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