WARRENDALE, Allegheny County — When Antonio Zambelli left Italy in 1893 to emigrate to neighboring New Castle, little did he know his family's name would remain synonymous with fireworks more than 125 years later.
Zambelli, who was a fireworks expert in Italy, brought along on the journey his black book, which contained his family's fireworks recipes.
Today, Zambelli's recipes have been expanded upon to provide the exploding cacophony of colors seen by millions of Americans throughout the year.
Sandy McStay, Zambelli Fireworks spokeswoman, said the company will provide more than 1 million fireworks to about 600 fireworks displays across the country during the week of Independence Day.
“And that number grows each year,” McStay said.
While the shells in some displays are lit through a set of wires that go from the fireworks to a computerlike piece of equipment, many fireworks are still hand fired.
“At the Butler 4th of July show, the actual technician who has been with us for many years, and has done Butler for many years, hand fires them,” McStay said. “She lights the fuses in a certain sequence.”
The list of events celebrated with a Zambelli Fireworks show is nearly endless, and includes fireworks shows for every president since President John F. Kennedy; the Disney-produced Honor America Day in 1970; the 1975 Canonization of Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first saint from the United States; the Philadelphia Bicentennial Celebration in 1976; a welcome for the king and queen of Belgium in 1980; the Statue of Liberty renovation celebration in 1986; the Gulf War National Victory Celebration in 1991 at the Washington Monument; the premiers of three Walt Disney children's movies; visits from Pope John Paul II in 1995 and 1999; the Mount Rushmore Independence Celebration in 2017; and Yale University's 300th anniversary celebration.
But the biggest and most well-known Zambelli Fireworks event is Thunder Over Louisville, which kicks off the Kentucky Derby Festival each April.
“That is the largest non-4th of July fireworks show in the country,” McStay said.
Regarding trends in fireworks, McStay said no fireworks ever go out of style, and some shows prefer the older shells.
“In certain places, they always want the traditional fireworks,” McStay said.
The latest fireworks are artistic shells and those choreographed to music.
“They're not just big booms anymore,” she said. “The most popular fireworks are anything that screams or whistles. Those are a big deal.”
She said the Pittsburgh region is crazy about its fireworks.
“Pittsburgh probably has more fireworks displays than most of the other cities where we work,” McStay said. “Pittsburghers love their fireworks.”
Zambelli also continues to provide fireworks shows in California despite the proliferation of wildfires in recent years.
“The regulations regarding shooting are much more stringent,” McStay said. “There are a lot more requirements to go through, but the majority of places that wish to have fireworks still do.”
Regarding the Zambelli family, ophthalmologist Dr. George Zambelli, Antonio's grandson, continues to serve as the president of the company's board of directors.
The younger generation of Zambellis tends to come and go, but McStay does not worry about the future of Zambelli Fireworks.
“We believe that some will probably come back into the fold,” she said.