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Fourth of July Fireworks Shows in 1962

As Independence Day approaches, it seems like a good time for Roadtrip-'62 ™ to review 4th of July fireworks displays in 1962. Fireworks as an Independence Day celebration date back almost to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, before the country had actually won its independence. Just one year after signing, in 1777, the Continental Congress authorized a display in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where they met. It’s recorded that thirteen rockets were fired on the commons. Boston, Massachusetts, another hotbed of separatist activity, also had a display on that day. These public displays were arguably better celebrations than some that occurred in 1776, where some colonists celebrated the signing of the Declaration of Independence by holding mock funerals for King George III, in a triumph of liberty. Fireworks caught on through the new states, with Charleston, South Carolina holding a display in 1783 and New York City in the same general period. They were not annual events though, with both Charleston and New York City canceling fireworks as a Fourth of July event in 1786 due to the risk of fires.

 

Grand finale of 2016 Bay City, Michigan fireworks display.

(Video by Gregory Varnum, at Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.)

 

But by 1870, fireworks were a mainstay of Independence Day celebrations. That year, the US Congress made July 4th a federal holiday. The number of cities having displays has continued to grow, so that by 1962 we could find fireworks on nearly any roadtrip we take. For example, there are fireworks in at least 40 cities along our US-23 trip, including at the beginning of the trip at Mackinaw City, Michigan and the end of the trip at Jacksonville, Florida. While not all of these date from at least 1962, the fireworks of Bay City, Michigan do. That first show was funded by Bay City's Fraternal Order of Police at a cost of $2,500 dollars. The event has now grown to include three nights of fireworks, along with a complete carnival, concerts, boat tours on the Saginaw River, and even helicopter rides. The three-night schedule has made it one of the largest fireworks displays in the Midwest.

Columbus, Ohio, also on US-23, takes the prize as the biggest, and by some accounts best, Independence Day fireworks celebration in the Midwest. It also includes great food and music with the fireworks. And to top it off, on July 4th an old-fashioned celebration is held at the Ohio Village 19th-century historical complex. This includes a parade, patriotic speeches, old-time baseball, pie-eating contests, and other events you might have seen in the mid 1800s.

 
Fireworks ad, Hills Department Store, Lorain, Ohio, 1962
Ad for Fourth of July fireworks display at Hills Department Store, Lorain, Ohio, 1962. (Photo from Dan Brady at Brady's Lorain County Nostalgia, used by permission.)

You can also find good displays along our US-6 roadtrip, though some that existed in 1962 are no longer staged. One example of celebrations that no longer exist is the Fourth of July fireworks display at the local Hills Department Store. As the ad above shows, the event was highly publicized, and I’ve found folks who have fond memories of their families piling into the car and heading out to the store. Unfortunately, that store closed after the entire Hills chain was bought by Ames Department Stores, which went bankrupt in 2002. One display from that era that still exists along US-6 is at Peekskill, New York. The Peekskill Volunteer Fire Department funds the fireworks and associated parade through collection of donations, and has since 1962.

Though not on US-6, Granville, Ohio’s fireworks and parade have been held since 1962. These are sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Granville and are produced by Rozzi Fireworks. This company has provided award winning fireworks products and displays since 1895, so you could probably find them behind many displays you would see in 1962. They are located in Cincinnati, Ohio and have been since 1930, when Italian immigrant Paolo Rozzi moved the company from New Castle, Pennsylvania. They are one of the few American pyrotechnic companies still manufacturing products in the United States. If you’re interested in buying fireworks, they also have a consumer fireworks store located in nearby Loveland, Ohio, near US-22. Or try Big Country Fireworks of Revillo, South Dakota, which opened in 1962. It’s located just off US-212, near the Minnesota border.

 
Joe and Louie Zambelli with fireworks
Joe and Louie with special Zambelli multi-break shells. (Promotional photo from Zambelli Fireworks Manufacturing Company.)

While Rozzi may be one of the few US fireworks manufactures, others also date back to before 1962 and were also founded by Italian immigrants. Garden State Fireworks of Millington, New Jersey was opened in 1890 by Augustine Santore and is now known world-wide for multi-break shells. One of their many customers is the Disney organization, today the world’s largest consumer of fireworks. It’s easy to see why Disney uses so many fireworks, as they use them every night at all of their theme parks, not just on July 4th! You could see the show nightly at Disneyland, even back in 1962.

One other fireworks manufacturer is still located in New Castle, Pennsylvania, where the previously-mentioned Mr. Rozzi was once located. Antonio Zambelli emigrated from Italy in 1893 with a book full of his family’s fireworks recipes and his Zambelli Fireworks Manufacturing Company has grown to have three locations, including offices in Florida and California. In the 1950s and 1960s, Zambelli produced the Washington Mall display with National Park Service.

 
Independence Day Fireworks, Washington, DC, 2014
Independence Day Fireworks in Washington, DC, 2014
 

Fireworks are often shot from barges in rivers and lakes, and sometimes from bridges, but Lake Waukomis, Missouri, shoots theirs from a dam. The community is located on US-71 and near US-169 and closes the road over the dam for their celebration. The first of what they call “Fourth on Water” was held in 1962 on private property for a crowd of just 650 people, but has grown since then. There are plenty of other Fourth of July fireworks displays around the country that have been running since 1962, besides those along US-23 and US-6. In fact, I have seen fireworks on or near July 4th all over the country on my Roadtrip-'62 ™ travels, in cities large and small. One spectacular display I watched was on the National Mall in Washington, DC, possibly still a Zambelli production, which I saw from my hotel room across the Potomac River in Virginia.

 

All photos by the author and Copyright © 2017 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.

All other content Copyright © 2017 - Milne Enterprises, Inc.

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What's the weather in 1962?

Weather on July 4, 1962 for Bay City, MI, from the National Climatic Data Center:

  • Low = 55°F
  • High = 83°F
  • Precipitation = none
  • Mean Wind Speed = 11mph

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