The Explosive History of Fireworks' "First Family"

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Italian Roots

Fireworks by Grucci traces its pyrotechnic roots to Bari, Italy, where in 1850 Angelo Lanzetta, the great, great grandfather to the namesake of the company today, Felix Grucci Sr., is thought to have been an apprentice to an Italian fireworks family.

"The Chinese are credited with the invention [of fireworks], but the Chinese used them for medicinal purposes, for scaring away evil spirits," said Butler. "The Italians brought fireworks to the fore in terms of celebration."

In 1870 Lanzetta immigrated to New York via Ellis Island and passed on the art to his son, Anthony. Then, in 1923 Anthony Lanzetta's nephew Grucci Sr. joined the business as an apprentice.

In 1940 Grucci Sr. married Concetta DiDio, who oversees company operations today. Their three children, Donna, James, and Felix Jr., have all helped build the business over the years. Today Felix Grucci Jr. is a United States Congressman for New York. James' son Phil Grucci is the executive vice president, working alongside Donna and Phil Butler.

The company's headquarters are in Brookhaven, New York, and a second pyrotechnics manufacturing facility is located in Radford, Virginia.

"We manufacture what we make best, the Italian shells," said Butler. In addition, the company designs and produces firework shows that have delighted millions around the world.

Butler says that after 30 years in the fireworks business the closest he can come to explaining the human attraction to fireworks is that we have a primal urge, a primal attraction to fire.

"If you go on a camping trip you must have a campfire and you are mesmerized by it," he said. "That is the same attraction we put in the sky with colors and it does the same thing. During the show people are mesmerized."

Firework Shows

Heckman considers firework shows as an art form with the sky as the pyrotechnicians' palette. Modern productions are tightly coordinated with simulcast music so that the blasts, sparkles, and weeps of the fireworks keep rhythm to the music that fills the air.

"A fireworks display is a way for a creator, or a designer, to demonstrate his craft and his passion through sparks and fire," said Heckman.

Modern pyrotechnicians can program the whole show from a computer that will tell them what type of firework will explode at what altitude, how long it hang in the air, and what sort of dressing should be fired beneath to fill the visual horizon.

Butler said this computer technology will allow Fireworks by Grucci to unveil a patented display this fall at a National Football League game in Washington D.C.: a 1,000-foot (305-meter) long American flag.

"Remember when you were a kid and you saw the American flag in fireworks displays? Well that was a set piece in the ground," said Butler. "You might remember a flag, but it was on the ground. But now with a computer chip you will be able to put a flag in the sky."

The proprietary technology uses a computer chip to fire a shell at exactly the right time, to the exact height and location, and to display at just the right time to behave a like a pixel in a digital image, such as that on a television screen. Each pixel in this case is a firework shell.

More innovations by the Grucci family are sure to come in the years ahead. Felix Grucci Jr.'s son Felix is currently in school but is preparing for a future in the fireworks industry, said his uncle Philip.

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