A Dictionary of Arts: Fire-works.

A Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures, and Mines; containing A Clear Exposition of Their Principles and Practice

by Andrew Ure, M. D.;
F. R. S. M. G. S. Lond.: M. Acad. M. S. Philad.; S. PH. DOC. N. GERM. Ranow.; Mulh. Etc. Etc.

Illustrated with nearly fifteen hundred engravings on wood
Eleventh American, From The Last London Edition.
To which is appended, a Supplement of Recent Improvements to The Present Time.

New York: D Appleton & company, 200 Broadway. Philadelphia: George S. Appleton, 148 Chestnut St.


FIRE-WORKS. (Feux d'artifice, Fr.; Feuerwerke, Germ.) The composition of luminous devices with explosive combustibles, is a modern art resulting from the discovery of gunpowder. The finest inventions of this kind are due to the celebrated Ruggieri, father and son, who executed in Rome and Paris, and the principal capitals of Europe, the most brilliant and beautiful fireworks that were ever seen. The following description of their processes will probably prove interesting to many of my readers.

The three prime materials of this art are, nitre, sulphur, and charcoal, along with filings of iron, steel, copper, zinc, and resin, camphor, lycopodium, &c. Gunpowder is used either in grain, half crushed, or finely ground, for different purposes. The longer the iron filings, the brighter red and white sparks they give; those being preferred which are made with a very coarse file, and quite free from rust. Steel filings and cast-iron borings contain carbon, and afford a more brilliant fire, with wavy radiations. Copper filings give a greenish tint to flame; those of zinc, a fine blue color; the sulphuret of antimony gives a less greenish blue than zinc, but with much smoke; amber affords a yellow fire, as well as colophony, and common salt; but the last must be very fry. Lampblack produces a very red colour with gunpowder, and a pink with nitre in excess. It serves for making golden showers. The yellow sand or glistening mica, communicates to fire-works golden radiations. Verdigris imparts a pale green; sulphate of copper and sal-ammoniac, a palm-tree green. Camphor yields a very white flame and aromatic fumes, which mask the bad smell of other substances. Benzoin and storax are used also on account of their agreeable odor. Lycopodium burns with a rose colour and a magnificent flame; but it is principally employed in theatres to represent lightning, or to charge the torch of a fury.

Fire-works are divided into three classes: 1. those to be set off upon the ground; 2. those which are shot up into the air; and 3. those which act upon or under water.

Composition for jets of fire; the common preparation for rockets not more than 3/4 of an inch in diameter, is; gunpowder, 16 parts; charcoal, 3 parts. For those of larger diameter; gunpowder, 16; steel filings, 4.

Brilliant revolving wheel; for a tube less than 3/4 of an inch; gunpowder, 16; steel filings, 3. When more than 3/4; gunpowder, 16, filings 4.

Chinese or Jasmine fire; when less than 3/4 of an inch: gunpowder, 16; nitre, 8; charcoal (fine), 3; sulphur, 3; pounded cast-iron borings (small), 10. When wider than 3/4: gunpowder, 16; nitre, 12; charcoal 3; sulphur, 3; coarse borings, 12.

A fixed brilliant; less than 3/4 inch din diameter: gunpowder, 16; steel filings, 4; or, gunpowder, 16; and finely pounded borings, 6.

Fixed suns are composed of a certain number of jets of fire distributed circularly, like the spokes of a wheel. All the fusees take fire at once through channels charged with quick matches. Glories are large suns with several rows of fusees. Fans are portions of a sun, being sectors of a circle. The Patte d'oie is a fan with only three jets.

The mosaic represents a surface covered with diamond shaped compartments, formed by two series of parallel lines crossing each other. This effect is produced by placing at each point of intersection, four jets of fire, which run into the adjoining ones. The intervals between the jets must be associated with the discharge of others, so as to keep up a succession of fires in the spaces.

Palm trees. Ruggieri contrived a new kind of fire, adapted to represent all sorts of trees, and especially the palm. The following is the composition of this magnificent green fire-work: crystallized verdigris, 4 parts; sulphate of copper, 2; sal-ammoniac, 1. These ingredients are to be ground and moistened with alcohol. An artificial tree of any kind being erected, coarse cotton rovings about 2 inches in diameter, impregnated with that composition, are to be festooned round the trunk, branches, and among the leaves; and immediately kindled before the spirits have had time to evaporate.

Cascades imitate sheets or jets of water. The Chinese fire is best adapted to such decorations.

Fixed stars. The bottom of a rocket is to be stuffed with clay, and one diameter in height of the first preparation being introduced, the vacant space is to be filled with the following composition, and the mouth tied up. The pasteboard must be pierced into the preparation, with five holes, for the escape of the luminous rays, which represent a star.

Composition of fixed stars: -

- | Ordinary, | Brighter. | Colored.
Nitre | 16 | 12 | 0
Sulphur | 4 | 6 | 6
Gunpowder meal | 4 | 12 | 16
Antimony | 2 | 1 | 2

Lances are long rockets of small diameter, made with cartridge paper. Those which burn quickest should be the longest. They are charged by hand without any mould, with rods of different lengths, and are not strangled at the mouth, but merely stuffed with a quick match of tow. These lances form the figures of great decorations; they are fixed with springs upon large wooden frame works, representing temples, palaces, pagodas, &c. The whole are placed in communication by conduits, or small paper cartridges like the lances, but somewhat conical, that they may fit endwise into one another to any extent that may be desired. Each is furnished with a match thread fully 1½ inches long, at its two ends.

Composition for the white lances: nitre, 16; sulphur, 8; gunpowder, 4 or 3. For a bluish-white: nitre, 16; sulphur, 8; antimony, 4. For blue lances: nitre, 16; antimony, 8. For yellow: nitre, 16; gunpowder, 16; sulphur, 8; amber, 8. For yellower ones: nitre, 16; gunpowder, 16; sulphur, 4; colophony, 3; amber, 4. For greenish ones: nitre, 16; sulphur, 6; antimony, 6; verdigris, 6. For pink lances: nitre, 16, gunpowder, 3; lampblack, 1. Others less vivid are made with nitre, 16; colophony, 3; amber, 3; lycopodium, 3.

Cordage is represented in fire-works, by imbuing soft ropes with a mixture of nitre, 2; sulphur, 16; antimony, 1; resin of juniper, 1.

The Bengal flames rival the light of day. They consist of, nitre, 7; sulphur, 2; antimony, 1. This mixture is pressed strongly into earthen porringers, with some bits of quick match strewed over the surface. These flames have a fine theatrical effect for conflagrations.

Revolving suns are wheels upon whose circumference rockets of different styles are fixed, and which communicate by conduits, so that one is lighted up in succession after another. The composition of their common fire is, for sizes below 3/4 of an inch: gunpowder meal, 16; charcoal, not too fine, 3. For larger sizes: gunpowder, 20; charcoal, not too fine, 4. For fiery radiations: gunpowder, 16; yellow micaceous sand, 2 or 3. For mixed radiations: gunpowder, 16; pitcoal, 1; yellow sand, 1 or 2.

The waring or double Catherine wheels are two suns turning about the same axis in opposite directions. The fuses are fixed obliquely and not tangentially to their peripheries. The wheel spokes are charged with a great number of fusees; two of the four wings revolve in the one direction, and the other two in the opposite; but always in a vertical plane.

The girandoles, caprices, spirals, and some other, have, on the contrary, a horizontal rotation. The fire-worker may diversify their effect greatly by the arrangement and colour of the jets of flame. Let us take for an example the globe of light. Imagine a large sphere turning freely upon its axis, along with a hollow hemisphere, which revolves also upon a vertical axis passing through its under pole. If the two pieces be covered with coloured lances or cordage, a fixed luminous globe will be formed; but if horizontal fusees be added upon the hemisphere, and vertical fusees upon the sphere, the first will have a relative horizontal movement, the second a vertical movement, which being combined with the first, will cause it to describe a species of curve, whose effect will be an agreeable contrast with the regular movement of the hemisphere. Upon the surface of a revolving sun, smaller suns might be placed, to revolve like satellites round their primaries.

Ruggieri exhibited a luminous serpent, pursuing, with a rapid winding pace, a butterfly which flew continually before it. This extraordinary effect was produced in the following way. Upon the summits of an octagon he fixed eight equal wheels turning freely upon their axles, in the vertical plane of the octagon. An endless chain passed round their circumference, going from the interior to the exterior, covering the outside semi-circumference of the first, the inside of the second, and so in succession; whence arose the appearance of a great festooned circular line. The chain, like that of a watch, carried upon a portion of its length a sort of scales pierced with holes for receiving coloured lances, in order to represent a fiery serpent. At a little distance there was a butterfly constructed with white lances. The piece was kindled commonly by other fireworks, which seemed to end their play, by projecting the serpent from the bosom of the flames. The motion was communicated to the chain by one of the wheels, which received it like a clock from the action of a weight. This remarkably curious mechanism was called by the artists a salamander.

The rockets which rise into the air with a prodigious velocity are among the most common, but not least interesting fire-works. When employed profusely, they form those rich volleys of fire which are the crowning ornaments of a public fete. The cartridge is similar to that of the other jets, except in regard to its length, and the necessity of pasting it strongly, and planing it well; but it is charged in a different manner. As the sky-rockets must fly off with rapidity, their composition should be such as to kindle instantly throughout their length, and extricate a vast volume of elastic fluids. To effect this purpose, a small cylindric space is left vacant round the acid; that is, the central line is tubular. The fire-workers call this space the soul of the rocket (ame de la fuscée). On account of its somewhat conical form, hollow rods, adjustable to different sizes of broaches or skewers, are required in packing the charge; which must be done while the cartridge is sustained by its outside mould, or copper cylinder. The composition of skyrockets is as follows: -
When the bore is: | 3/4 of an inch | 3/4 to 174 | 1 2/3
Nitre | 16 | 16 | 16
Charcoal | 7 | 8 | 9
Sulphur | 4 | 4 | 4
---Brilliant Fire.
Nitre | 16 | 16 | 16
Charcoal | 6 | 7 | 8
Sulphur | 4 | 4 | 4
Fine steel filings | 3 | 4 | 5
--- Chinese Fire.
Nitre | 16 | 16 | 16
Charcoal | 4 | 5 | 6
Sulphur | 3 | 3 | 4
Fine borings of cast-iron | 3 coarser | 4 mixed | 5

The cartridge being charged as above described, the pot must be adjusted to it, with the garniture; that is, the serpents, the crackers, the stars, the showers of fire, &c. The pot is a tube of pasteboard wider than the body of the rocket, and about one third of its length. After being strangled at the bottom like the mouth of a vial, it is attached to the end of the fusee by means of twine and paste. These are afterwards covered with paper. The garniture is introduced by the neck, and a paper plug is laid over it. The whole is enclosed within a tube of pasteboard terminating in a cone, which is firmly pasted to the pot. The quick-match is now finally inserted into the soul of the rocket. The rod attached to the end of the sky-rockets to direct their flight is made of willow or any other light wood. M. Ruggieri replaced the rod by conical wings containing explosive materials, and thereby made them fly further and straighter.

The garnitures of the sky-rocket pots are the following: -
1. Stars are small, round, or cubic solids, made with one of the following compositions, and soaked in spirits. White stars, nitre, 16; sulphur, 8; gunpowder, 3. Others more vivid consist of nitre, 16; sulphur, 7; gunpowder, 4.

Stars for golden showers, nitre, 16; sulphur, 10; charcoal, 4; gunpowder, 16; lampblack, 2; gunpowder, 8.

The serpents are small fusees made with one or two playing cards; their bore being less than half an inch. The lardons are a little larger, and have three cards; the vetilles are smaller. Their composition is, nitre, 16; charcoal, not too fine, 2; gunpowder, 4; sulphur, 4; fine steel filings, 6.

The petards are cartridges filled with gunpowder and strangled.

The saxons are cartridges clayed at each end, charged with the brilliant turning fire, and perforated with one or two holes at the extremity of the same diameter.

The cracker is a round or square box of pasteboard, filled with granulated gunpowder, and hooped all round with twine.

Roman candles are fusees which throw out very bright stars in succession. With the composition (as under) imbued with spirits and gum-water, small cylindric masses are made, pierced with a hole in their centre. These bodies, when kindled and projected into the air, form the stars. There is first put into the cartridge a charge of fine gunpowder of the size of the star; above this charge a star is placed; then a charge of composition for the Roman candles.

The stars, when less than 3/4 of an inch, consist of nitre, 16; sulphur, 7; gunpowder, 5. When larger, of nitre, 16; sulphur, 8; gunpowder, 8.

Roman candles, nitre, 16; charcoal, 6; sulphur, 3. When above 3/4 of an inch, nitre, 16; charcoal, 8; sulphur, 6.

The girandes, or bouquets, are those beautiful pieces which usually conclude a firework exhibition; when a multitude of jets seem to emblazon the sky in every direction, and then fall in golden showers. This effect is produced by distributing a number of cases open at top, each containing 140 sky-rockets, communicating with one another by quick-match strings planted among them. The several cases communicate with each other by conduits, whereby they take fire simultaneously, and produce a volcanic display.

The water fire-works are prepared like the rest; but they must be floated either by wooden bowls, or by discs and hollow cartridges fitted to them.

Blue fire for lances may be made with nitre, 16; antimony, 8; very fine zinc filings, 4. Chinese paste for the stars of Roman candles, bombs, &c.: - Sulphur, 16; nitre, 4; gunpowder meal, 12; camphor, 1; linseed oil, 1; the mixture being moistened with spirits.

The fen grégois of Ruggieri, the son: - Nitre, 4; sulphur, 2; naphtha, 1. See PYROTECHNY and ROCKETS.

The red fire composition is made by mixing 20 parts of nitrate of strontia, 13 of flowers of sulphur, 5 of chlorate of potash, and 4 of sulphuret of antimony.

White fire is produced by igniting a mixture of 48 parts nitre; 13¼ sulphur; 7¼ sulphuret of antimony; or, 24, nitre, 7 sulphur, 2 realgar; or, 75 nitre, 24 sulphur, 1 charcoal; or, finally, 100 of gunpowder meal, and 25 of cast-iron fine borings.

The blue fire composition is 4 parts of gunpowder meal; 2 of nitre; sulphur and zinc, each 3 parts.

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