The 4th of July is one of the most revered and cherished holidays in the United States, and rightfully so! Those celebrating take part in grand and patriotic celebrations, usually involving barbeques, apple pie, red, white, and blue, and of course, fireworks. Ellen Chang from TheStreet estimated that approximately 219 million Americans partook in 4th of July festivities in 2016, with that number steadily increasing each year. That’s a lot of fireworks that need to be available and ready to go, so what exactly does the fireworks supply chain look like? How much planning does it really take to pull it off? Let’s explore a bit further.

Fireworks – an “All American” Tradition?

Fireworks and the 4th of July have become somewhat synonymous, going all the way back to the very first Independence Day. As per Olivia B. Waxman at Time Magazine, fireworks were used to encourage American troops during the Revolutionary War, and once the U.S. was victorious, John Adams himself called for Independence Day to be celebrated with guns, bonfires, and illuminations. On the 4th of July in 1777, the first year after the end of the war, there was a massive celebration in Philadelphia that included fireworks. Since then, they have become a 4th of July staple, leading many to associate them with America. However, in truth, they originated in the Far East and are still primarily imported from China to this day.

The History Behind Fireworks

According to Alina Bradford at Live Science, fireworks first came about in around A.D. 800 when the Chinese mixed together saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal to create a type of gunpowder. Although the result was unintentional, it ended up having profound implications, including the genesis of the very first fireworks. Since then, they have evolved and modernized into what you see every July.

Considering their roots in Chinese history, it is really no wonder that fireworks are still a mostly Chinese business. Taylor Telford at the Washington Post reports that “of the 250 million pounds of fireworks that are imported to the United States each year, nearly 95 percent come from China.” Take a look at the below infographic published on Forbes to better understand where the fireworks you see every year on the 4th come from.

Forbes fireworks

So How Exactly Do We Get All of Those Fireworks to America?

Craig Guillot at Supply Chain Dive reports that since the U.S. is so dependent on China for fireworks, “distributors must contend not only with regulations here at home, but also those in China. Meanwhile, everything from transportation costs and port delays to weather events can have a significant impact on supply and the prices consumers pay.” Needless to say, getting all of the necessary fireworks into the U.S. for the 4th of July is no easy feat.

U.S. distributors begin planning for the next 4th of July years in advance, and thus, must try to accurately gauge demand ahead of time. So in spite of the fact that we typically only see grandiose fireworks celebrations on the 4th, fireworks are being produced, shipped, and supplied all year long.

All fireworks that are imported from China are sent overseas in cargo containers and then distributed across the states via multimodal channels. This means that there is a significant amount of time between when the shipment leaves the warehouse in China to when it is received by the customer, further reinforcing how important planning ahead is to the success of the fireworks supply chain.

Fireworks Supply Chain Safety

And with any goods, but particularly ones that can be dangerous, quality control is key. Counterfeiting is a huge issue in all supply chains, and the fireworks industry is no different. Statistically, the majority of counterfeited products come from China, and so U.S. distributors must be extremely selective in who they chose to do business with. Maintaining relationships with reputable and reliable supply partners and even making frequent trips to be actively involved in the process is instrumental in ensuring the safety of the fireworks supply chain. With something as dangerous as fireworks, the consequences of counterfeit products could be the difference between life and death.

Watch It All Come Together

So this year, as you’re enjoying the beautiful 4th of July fireworks, take a moment to appreciate the complex supply chain that made it all possible, and remember that next year’s display is already in the works. Cheers!