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America's 'First Family Of Fireworks' Continues To Light The Night Sky

Courtesy of Fireworks by Grucci

The fireworks industry is changing, thanks to new technology. But fireworks is a field that’s big on tradition. That’s especially true for the Grucci family, who have been making fireworks in Long Island for five generations. 

Angelo Lanzetta left Italy for Long Island in 1850. He built his fireworks in a one-room shack. He’d spend weeks to craft a single firework shell—right down to hand-weaving the wick. And his descendants followed him in the trade.

Phil Grucci is Lanzetta’s great-great grandson. His whole life has been about fireworks. His earliest memory is helping his grandfather set up a fireworks show in Coney Island.

“When I experienced being out there on the pier, on the boardwalk with grandpa, and the show was over, people coming around and congratulating him, the cheers and the hugs afterwards—it’s very easy to get addicted to that,” he says.

Now Grucci runs the family business—and it’s become one of the biggest fireworks companies in the world. Their shows can cost upwards of $10 million. And you can’t spend weeks on a single firework anymore.

“The audience has become much more demanding,” he says. “They want to watch a fireworks program for a half an hour where you’re oohing and aahing every 30 seconds.”

In 2008 the Gruccis got software that lets them arrange complex patterns that wouldn’t have been possible a few decades ago—with names like strobes and willows. Now Phil Grucci can see what a show would look like before it happens and weave different effects with music.

A lot of this new technology is in the hands of the sixth generation—Grucci’s two children and his nephew, Corey Grucci. Corey’s a pyrotechnician, but—funny thing—he’s never actually hand-lit a firework.

“I’ve never actually run out with a flare,” he says. “Back in the day, they used to use a cigar. Back over in Italy.”

Corey uses a handheld electronic device that automatically sets off each firework at exactly the right time. It’s a long way away from those fireworks Phil saw rise over Coney Island when he was five. Back then, he’d get his hands dirty loading gunpowder into shells.

“But It was a different world,” he says. “My son and daughter and nephews, they didn’t get to touch anything or really get inside the factory or get into the magic of what we do until they were 18-years-old.”

Phil knows his kids will take over the family business someday. And he says it’s hard to balance tradition with innovation. Now the Gruccis are even starting to put microchips inside fireworks to steer them to specific points in the sky. But Phil says some things don’t change. Fireworks are still made mostly by hand.

“It’s still very much an art form,” he says. “We’re combining color, we’re combining sound, we’re combining all the senses, of smell and touch, to one of our performances.”

Just like his great-great grandfather did back in Italy all those years ago.