A Fireworks Family Affair

interview with phil grucci written by alexa bricker photography fireworks by grucci

Movie Magic:

A Fireworks Family Affair

interview with phil grucci
written byalexa bricker
photography fireworks by grucci

A Fireworks Family Affair

interview with phil grucci
written by alexa bricker
photography by fireworks by grucci

An unlikely talent sprouted from the small town of Bari on Italy’s Adriatic coast in the 1800s. In a country known for its cuisine, fashion, and architecture, one man found his calling as a pyrotechnician—helping to bring the art of firework making into the public eye. What started out as a hobby quickly became the family business, and now, having crossed continents and spanning over more than five generations, the Gruccis—America’s first family of fireworks—continue to astound as true pioneers of the craft.

Who was Angelo Lanzetta, and how did he develop an interest in pyrotechnics?

Angelo was my great-great-grandfather, who started our business in Bari, Italy, in 1850. He had a hobby of making fireworks, but back then they didn’t have the large shows that we have today. Firework making was more of a trade where people would produce individual fireworks and compete with other local artisans on the elaboration of that product.

When did he decide to turn this hobby of firework making into a business?

Angelo left Italy in 1870 with his son Anthony. They came to New York through Ellis Island and set up shop in what was practically nothing more than a cardboard box, right outside the island. They produced and sold fireworks in the same location until Anthony’s nephew, Felix Grucci Sr., bought the business in 1923.

How did Felix Sr. help catapult the business to the level it has grown to today? What were some of his important innovations?

As the company has progressed, each generation has left its own mark and attributions. Felix Sr.'s most important contribution was the military contract, which came about during the Korean War in the 1950s. This contract helped us establish a larger factory to work with and therefore transition into the production of larger pyrotechnics.

It was during these years Felix Sr. changed the pyrotechnic industry single-handedly by developing the stringless shell. It was a game-changer because it significantly improved firework display safety. One of the biggest safety hazards with these displays was the fallout from the explosions, which could land on cars and homes miles away. These days, there is much less firework fallout.

Can you explain some of the techniques that your family has pioneered in firework technology?

Our medium is very exciting because it’s constantly changing. We provide firework products to some of the biggest events and companies in the world, like Disney. One of the specialty products you will see at these shows is the golden center split comet, which we developed the shell for in the 1970s. We typically use it as a prelude right before the grand finale because it has a tapering, streaky effect that, just when you think is over, splits apart elegantly.

We also created the pixel burst, which is a small microchip embedded in the shell that allows us to control the height and timing of the burst. We make these exclusively at our factories in Virginia and New York.

What is the process for putting on a firework show, from start to finish?

All parts of our performances are very design driven. Fireworks are our artistic medium, just like paint, pencil, or chalk. First, we look at the structure of the stage, bridge, field, or whatever area we are working with, and then we figure out how to marry the location with the theme of the performance, including the music.

After that, the engineering takes place over a few months. We never want to repeat a design in a show, so it’s a challenge to make it all happen and keep the audience excited for what comes next. We also have to consider the shipping, storage, and logistics; for example, at one of our performances we served 1,500 meals just to feed the set-up crew.

What has been most rewarding for you in taking over the family business?

The training and sense of pride in this business through each generation has allowed us to keep it together. I am proud to say that, even though we lost my father—who was really the life of the business—in 1983, we pushed through and were able to build it back up.

I am very fortunate to have seen how the industry has changed—with electronics in the early 1980s and computers in the 1990s, all the way to the elaborate technological achievements we see today.

For more info, visit grucci.com

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Posted in Feature, July 2018 on Apr 23, 2018