Everyone knows that come July 4th, cities across the United States will be celebrating our nation’s independence with dazzling fireworks displays, but do you know the roots of this grand tradition?
Here’s a little history lesson followed by some recommendations for D.C. area fireworks exhibitions planned this year.
How it All Began
Records from the Massachusetts Historical Society and research by American University Librarian Emeritus James Heintze suggest that we have patriot John Adams, Congress, and the city of Philadelphia to thank for beginning the July 4th fireworks custom.
In a letter to his wife on July 3, 1776, Adams shared his vision for how America’s independence should be commemorated: “with pomp and parade, with shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”
Congress then authorized a July 4th fireworks exhibition in Philadelphia in 1777 to mark the one-year anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
The Pennsylvania Evening Post described the event as follows: “The evening was closed with the ring of bells, and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks (which began and concluded with thirteen rockets) on the Commons and the city was beautifully illuminated.”
America’s July 4th fireworks tradition took hold. Soon, other towns in the colonies adopted the custom, which became even more popular after the second defeat of the British in the War of 1812.
The Tradition Continues – D.C. Area 2018 Displays
We’ve created a guide to the best July 4th fireworks displays in the D.C. area so you too can participate in John Adams’ patriotic vision.
Mattie J.T. Stepanek Park, King Farm, 1800 Piccard Drive
Fireworks start at 9:15 p.m. There will be a concert by The Nighthawks at 7 p.m. and food and beverage vendors on site. You can park at the free lots on Shady Grove, Gaither, or Choke Cherry roads.
South Germantown Regional Park, 18401 Central Park Circle
Fireworks will be held at 9:15 p.m. Make sure to get there early for concerts by Gringo Jingo and Quiet Fire, which begins at 7 p.m. There will be food vendors on site and signs to follow for free parking.
Fairfax High School, 3501 Rebel Run
Fireworks begin at 9:30 p.m. There will also be children’s activities, such as face painting, starting at 5:30 p.m. and live music by The Rockets and the City of Fairfax Band throughout the evening. There is limited parking on site, but there will be a shuttle service from Woodson High School, located at 9525 Main Street.
Takoma Park Middle School, 7611 Piney Branch Road
Fireworks begin at 9:30 p.m. Enjoy a series of concerts starting at 7 p.m. by Elena and Los Fulanos, AcroAirs, and the Takoma Park Community Band. There will be food vendors on site and parking available at the school parking lot.
If you’re up for traveling to D.C., this is one of the most impressive fireworks displays in the nation’s capital. Fireworks begin at approximately 9:09 p.m.
The annual concert will be held on the U.S. Capitol West Lawn from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., with appearances by the National Symphony Orchestra, Jimmy Buffet and Broadway cast of Escape to Margaritaville, the Temptations, the Beach Boys, Luke Combs, and host John Stamos. Gates for the show open at 3 p.m. and the Metro will close at 11:30 p.m.
Here are some of the best vantage points for the National Mall fireworks:
- Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool (only accessible through secure access points)
- U.S. Capital
- White House Ellipse
- Jefferson, Lincoln & Roosevelt Memorials
- West and East Potomac Parks
- Anacostia Park
- Arlington: Long Bridge Park
- Rossyln: Gateway Park or Key Bridge
Bonus: If you're still looking for more fireworks after the 4th, check out this special exhibit in Alexandria, VA on Saturday, July 7th:
Potomac Waterfront at Oronoco Bay Park, 100 Madison Street
There will be fireworks to celebrate the birthday of both the nation and the city of Alexandria at 9:30 p.m. Don’t miss other events, food, and live music by the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra beginning at 6 p.m. You can find parking at downtown garages or you can use DASH transit lines.
We hope you can make it out to one of these sites and get to celebrate Independence Day with family and friends!