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Holiday Weekend Fireworks Celebrate Rich Pyrotechnic Tradition in Pennsylvania

Fireworks fans will have plenty of entertainment options this weekend around southwestern Pennsylvania.

New Castle-based Pyrotecnico will stage a show billed as "America's Largest Fireworks Festival" on Saturday at Hartwood Acres. The event features a series of fireworks displays with patriotic themes, as well as a full slate of live music starting at 3:00 PM.

Among the show's highlights is a 40-foot launching platform that will be hoisted high above the audience's heads, according to company president Stephen Vitale.

"Typically you see fireworks coming from the ground up," Vitale said. "This stationary device is going to be a hundred foot in the air. We're going to choreograph an awesome display for about 13 minutes."

Meanwhile, a regional fireworks club hopes to set a world record Saturday in Somerset. The group Pyrotechnic Artists plans to launch more than 1,800 "salutes" — shells fired off in rapid succession — during the finale of its show at Airesman Orchards. The event starts at 9:00 PM on Saturday night.

Western Pennsylvania is home to a vibrant pyrotechnics culture dating to the 19th century. Vitale's family has been in the business since 1889 in New Castle, home to nine fireworks companies at the turn of the last century.

"Most of the historical fireworks families started in New Castle," Vitale said. "These families came over to work in the tin and steel mills, but came from a region within Italy where fireworks were a village trade. So they came here, they worked during the days in the mills, and they'd make their fireworks at night," primarily for use in church and community celebrations.

Lawrence County, the self-styled "Fireworks Capitol of America," is home to two immigrant-founded pyrotechnics companies that are still in business more than a century later.