Increasingly, U.S. Fireworks Come from Overseas

To many Americans, fireworks are a key feature to the Fourth of July, but most of the fireworks used in the United States now come from China.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

When fireworks displays light up tonight's skies, the oohs and ahs will be thanks largely to China. That's because most of the fireworks we use these days are made there. It wasn't always thus. Local fireworks displays were once the domain of backyard chemists like the eccentric Sycamore family in the 1938 movie "You Can't Take It with You."

(Soundbite of "You Can't Take It with You")

Mr. SAMUEL S. HINDS: (As Paul Sycamore) So right now, Mr. DePinna, I just want to show my wife these new firecrackers we made. Look, Penny, we can make up a whole lot of these before the Fourth of July and sell them for 10 cents a string. Watch. Watch, Penny.

(Soundbite of fireworks)

Mr. HINDS: (As Paul Sycamore) Nice, huh?

Ms. SPRING BYINGTON: (As Penny Sycamore) Yes, Paul, dear.

Mr. HINDS: (As Paul Sycamore) I'm sure that kids'll go for those like hotcakes.

MONTAGNE: Since 1893, the real-life Zambelli family have been manufacturing fireworks in Newcastle, Pennsylvania. CEO Marcy Zambelli has tried to keep production there, but that's becoming increasingly unprofitable.

Ms. MARCY ZAMBELLI (CEO of Fireworks Company): Well, everything is made by hand. It takes a three-week process to actually manufacture the fireworks. So, unfortunately, to be competitive, you know, we do have to purchase some of our products from other countries.

MONTAGNE: As production moves overseas, some say American-made fireworks are becoming a lost art. John Conkling recently retired as the executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.

Mr. JOHN CONKLING (Former Executive Director, American Pyrotechnics Association): Many of the artisans who made American fireworks for, you know, decades are retiring, passing away. And there's really not a younger generation coming along to replace them.

MONTAGNE: John Conkling says basic fireworks technology hasn't changed much over the decade, although, he says, there's still one awe-inspiring site that traditional technology has been unable to deliver.

Mr. CONKLING: The Holy Grail of fireworks manufacturing is to have a firework explode with a beautiful deep blue color.

MONTAGNE: And that means there's still an opportunity for a pyrotechnic breakthrough in this land of red, white and blue.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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