The Explosive History of Fireworks' "First Family"

John Roach
for National Geographic News
July 4 weekend, 2003

This Fourth of July, Split Comets will sparkle, Willows will weep, Palm Trees will sprout, Chrysanthemums will flower, and Salutes will boom over hundreds of thousands of awestruck spectators in cities across the United States.

Many of these firework shows, including the biggest budgeted west of the Mississippi at Dallas Trinity Fest 2003, will be produced by Fireworks by Grucci, "America's First Family of Fireworks."

"Fireworks by Grucci is one of the nation's premier pyrotechnics firms," said Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, an industry trade group.

The list of events lit up by the company is impressive: six consecutive presidential inaugurations beginning with Ronald Reagan; the Statue of Liberty Centennial in 1986; the Lake Placid, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake City Olympic Games; and World's Fairs in Knoxville, Tennessee, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Taejon, Korea, to name a few.

The all time favorite for Philip Butler, a senior vice president and husband to the company's namesake daughter Donna Grucci Butler, was the show the company produced for the centennial of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1983.

"Every New Yorker has a special place in their heart for the Brooklyn Bridge and we added fireworks to it and it created a memory for everyone that was there and saw it and they will remember it for the rest of their days," he said.

This Fourth of July the company will produce major shows in places from Delray Beach, Florida, to Dallas, Texas, to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. An average show that lights up the night sky for just under a half hour costs U.S. $30,000. The biggest productions cost $100,000 or more.

But spectators validate the production cost with their priceless "wows" as they watch the reds, greens, blues, yellows, and gold shower down from the sky.

Marjorie Ferrer, coordinator for the Fabulous 4th at Delray Beach in Florida, said they have used the Gruccis for the past six years. "Aside from the beautiful show—the fabulous finale is just wonderful—every year we try to change the show, mix it up, and they are always willing to work with us no matter what we want to do."

At the first year of the first Dallas Trinity Fest in 2002, an estimated 300,000 people showed up to watch the Gruccis' show, said Carol Reed, producer of the event.

"First year events usually take ten years to develop but since ours was highlighting the Trinity River Development Project, we wanted to kind of jump ten years ahead of time," she said. "One of the best ways to do it was to get the best name in fireworks."

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