As a general rule, it’s a bad idea to indulge little boys in their proclivity for blowing stuff up. Even if you fondly recall sticking firecrackers in frogs as a kid, those memories aren’t as precious as your son’s fingers, which are at risk on the Fourth Of July according to this terrifying infographic of fireworks-related injuries. But back in the old timey days of the early twentieth century, no one paid attention to those things, and a few little boys turned that proclivity into huge businesses.
Today, most of the professional fireworks displays in the U.S. — from Independence Day celebrations to Super Bowls to presidential inaugurations — are handled by just 4 companies. Pyro Spectaculars By Souza, Constantino Vitale’s Pyrotecnico, Zambelli, and Fireworks By Grucci have more in common than sounding vaguely like stores at a Southern European outlet mall: They were all started by Italian or Portuguese immigrants, and they’re family businesses going back 5 generations.
When the sky explodes above Los Angeles, San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, Atlantic City, Boston, and New York City this 4th Of July, Jim Souza or a member of his family will be at the helm. Pyro Spectaculars was founded in San Francisco over 100 years ago by his great grandfather, who was known in that city’s Portuguese community as “Papagayo” – The Parrot – for the fireworks displays he orchestrated to celebrate Saint’s Day. “Most of us are from families that came from Europe looking for a better life and the American Dream,” says Souza of his brothers in boom. “These countries have fireworks traditions that go along with their religious celebrations and feast days. That came with them to this country.”
Needless to say, the U.S. took to the idea. Last year, companies like Souza’s lit off 17 million pounds of firework on the 4th. Meanwhile, 10 times that amount go off in backyards and neighborhoods, which is where all those injuries happen — mostly to men between the ages of 25 and 44. Insert speculation on their relative levels of sobriety here.
If you plan on being the Papagayo of your neighborhood this 4th, make sure your son learns the basics of fire safety while you’re at it: Wear protective goggles, keep a running hose or fire extinguisher handy, and keep everyone safely away from lit fuses. That way, he won’t grow up to be a drunken statistic, and maybe he’ll find his life’s calling. After all, the only thing more American than blowing things up is making a living doing what you love. Just ask the Souzas, Zambellis, Gruccis, and Vitales.