The Chinese are credited with discovering and manufacturing fireworks in about the sixth century. As time has passed, fireworks have become a traditional way to celebrate certain events throughout the world, including New Year's Day, America's Independence Day and England's Bonfire Night (aka Guy Fawkes Day). Sparklers are a form of fireworks that can be held in the hand while the coated end burns.
Sparklers are very inexpensive consumer fireworks, consisting of a long, thin wire rod that is coated halfway down with metallic substances that can be lit with a match or lighter. When the coated material ignites, sparks fly from it, and they work their way down to the end of the coated portion of the wire. The material that makes up the coating burns at an extremely high temperature, up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of this fact, sparklers are the number one cause of consumer fireworks-related injuries. People who have not properly educated their children about sparklers and do not supervise them when using sparklers are asking for trouble.
Aluminum, iron filings, barium nitrate, dextrin and boric acid are mixed with water in order to create sparklers. Because iron rusts quickly, the filings are usually mixed with linseed oil as well to help prevent rust. Other methods and ingredients may be used to make sparklers, including some do-it-yourself methods for the chemistry student, which are available online. However, Diamond Sparklers is the single remaining commercial sparkler manufacturing company in the United States. Other fireworks companies in the U.S. may distribute sparklers, but they no longer manufacture them.
It is difficult to nail down precisely when sparklers were invented and by whom. But the BBC's e-cyclopedia says Callinicos of Heliopolis, an architect who lived in AD 670, created the first hand-held fireworks, called a "cheirosiphon," which apparently was a smaller version of the Roman candle, which led to the creation of today's "sparkler."
Besides traditional celebratory uses, sparklers today are often used to adorn cakes and are becoming extremely popular in weddings, used in place of rice or birdseed in order to create an "archway" for the bride and groom to pass through.
The word "sparkler" is also used to refer to sparkling wine, diamond rings, shiny ribbon creations that produce a "waterfall" effect, crystals and rhinestones used in crafts and costuming.