With the fourth-of-July around the corner, Americans are making plans for where to view fireworks in celebration. The talk usually turns to where to see “the best” firework display, and if you are anywhere near a show orchestrated by the Grucci family, then that is the obvious choice. They are known as The First Family of Fireworks, now in their sixth generation, and their shows are always spectacular.
World-Class Fireworks Displays
This family run business holds the Guinness World Record for the “Largest Fireworks Display” ever recorded, and “Largest Pyrotechnic Image”. They have lit up 8 presidential inaugurations, Olympic games, World’s Fairs and have been hired to develop shows all over the world, from Saudi Arabia to China, Los Vegas to Boston, New York to Moscow, and Macau.
The Grucci Family History
The timeline begins in 1850 in southern Italy. Angelo Lanzetta was the founder of this now world-renowned company. He came to the US in 1870, through Ellis Island, settling in Elmont, Long Island, bringing his pyrotechnic artistry with him. Back home he had been in the produce business, but fireworks had been a passion and he had been competing in shows, making single shell fireworks from scratch.
His son, Anthony, took over the business after Angelo’s passing in 1899, bringing in his nephew, Felix Grucci, Sr., into the business, initially as an apprentice.
They made it through the Depression, during which Felix met his future wife, Concetta DiDio. Their three children, James, Donna and Felix Jr. all eventually joined the family business.
The Grucci Company Then & Now
For over 40 years, Donna, Felix Jr. and Felix (Phil) Grucci (son of the late James Grucci), along with Merlin Phillip Butler, husband of Donna Grucci Butler, and other key members of the Grucci Family, continue to guide this family business, leading innovative technology in the field, and entertaining millions around the globe.
I spoke with Felix (Phil) Grucci, who likes to go by “Phil”. He is 5th generation and the current President/CEO of Fireworks by Grucci, Inc. and Pyrotechnique by Grucci, Inc., the manufacturing end of the Grucci group of companies.
The 6th generation includes Corey Grucci, Lauren Grucci and Christopher Grucci, (Phil’s nephew, daughter and son). They are all certified pyrotechnicians and looking forward to continuing the family tradition of artistry, integrity, and world-class entertainment. The 7th generation is here. Phelim James is just a baby, but Phil Grucci has high hopes.
US Government Connections
Felix Grucci, Sr. established himself as a highly skilled practitioner in his field, earning a well-deserved reputation for his expertise. He made a significant breakthrough known as the stringless shell, a groundbreaking innovation that revolutionized fireworks safety by eliminating the risk of burning fallout—a pervasive concern in the firework industry. This development was initially crafted for the US Defense Department (DOD) in the 1950s, serving as an atomic device simulator for troop training.
By the late 1960s, the business was still largely regional, encompassing the greater New York area, as well as New Jersey and Connecticut.
The 1976 Bicentennial Opened The Gates
Plans for huge celebrations, including fireworks, to commemorate the nation’s bicentennial became a huge industry unto itself. The Grucci family made their mark at their first major performance out of the New York tri-state area in Boston with a custom fireworks display on the Charles River, accompanied by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra.
As with so many things that involve science, art and craft, there are competitions, and the annual Monte Carlo International Fireworks Competition is considered the most prestigious in the world. The Gruccis became the first American family to win the event for the United States in 1979, at which point they earned their title as “America’s First Family of Fireworks”.
A George Plimpton Connection
Several generations of Gruccis were friends with George Plimpton, founder of The Paris Review, writer and actor, also known for his love of adventure and derring-do. Phil positively lit up when speaking of George, who died in 2003. It was Phil who helped George’s son pack George’s ashes into a Grucci shell to be launched into a firework display, per his final wishes.
“George and I climbed the ‘necklace’ (the steel cable wire) of the Brooklyn Bridge together,” where the Gruccis were to provide the fireworks for the bridge’s centennial celebration. “George was saying, ‘Philly, I don’t know if I can make it up!’, and then we got to the top and he said, ‘I don’t know if I can get down’,” laughed Phil. They did of course. “He white knuckled it all the way down,” Phil added.
“It was also George who encouraged us to enter Monte Carlo,” explained Phil. “That never would have happened without him.”
NY Is The Main Grucci Home
The headquarters is in Bellport, NY, but they also have facilities in Delanson, NY, in Virginia, St. Thomas US Virgin Islands, Los Vegas, Hawaii, China, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates.
The image above is their historic headquarters.
The Gruccis invested $5.5 million in a Virginia plant in order to expand its assembly, storage, and distribution operations. The plant is over 35,000 square feet, has 130 full-time employees, and about 90% of it is dedicated to production that is connected to the DOD. That relationship has continued, and stays strong.
Secretary of Commerce and Trade Caren Merrick explained in a Virginia Economic Development Partnership press release, “In addition to fireworks displays that captivate millions around the globe, the Gruccis also manufacture pyrotechnic training devices for the U.S. military that prepare our troops.”
Fireworks Big & Small
While the Grucci displays have become synonymous with truly gigantic world-class level events, they also produce smaller firework displays for cities, towns, and individual businesses.
No matter the size of the event, Phil Grucci gets excited, complete with butterflies. “Maybe the bigger the event, the bigger the butterflies, but even smaller events, I get butterflies,” he explains. “The medium is larger than life…you feed off of the audience reaction. There is danger, but that gives it an (attractive) edge.”
The image above is of the largest shell ever produced.
Safety Is Always A Priority
We discussed safety, and he brought up the fact that his father was killed in a 1983 plant explosion. I asked him how his daughter feels about her newborn son joining the company. “Safety is always on our mind. As I say, we are not manufacturing sneakers and socks,” Phil remarked. In other words, everyone in the family has their eyes open as to what they do, and possible ramifications. His daughter is a very enthusiastic member of the family team.
There is a link on their site that details what they call Fireworks Etiquette. It begins with “Obey Police, respect public and private property,” and ends with, “Most importantly, bring your manners.” Well said. No matter where you are viewing fireworks, or if you are handling them, please use an abundance of caution.
Manual To Automation
Speaking of safety, until the late 1990s many of the fireworks were set off manually. Phil explained, “the fireworks would be lit with a torch, then the person would just move back and crouch.” We were incredulous, so we asked for more details. How far would they be from the launching firework? “About 10 feet,” Grucci said. “In fact, my grandfather would sometimes use a lit cigar, or a piece of burlap that was ignited.”
Now, the ignition is attached to computers and it is a whole new era.
The Passion of a Family Business
Phil’s passion was palpable during our Zoom interview, complete with descriptions of stories such as being on the outside of the Washington monument and being able to touch the very tip with his hand (when they were setting up a display there). “That is one of my most cherished photographs,” he says.
“I love the people we work with, both our employees and our clientele, who are so loyal…we are entertainers…and it’s one shot, which adds to the excitement,” he enthused. “You are putting on a show and there are no corrections midstream.”
What Happens In Vegas, Happens Again & Again
There have been exceptions. Apparently during an event they produced for Wynn Resorts in Los Vegas, they did actually have a run-through. As you can imagine, this is cost prohibitive for most.
Indoor & Rooftop Fireworks
The Gruccis also produce pyrotechnics for indoor use, which are referred to in the industry as “close proximity pyrotechnics”. These have been seen during MTV Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden, in casinos, hotels, malls and, at the Billboard Music Awards in Los Vegas.
Pyro Electric Set Pieces: Customized for You
They have something called Pyro Electric Set Pieces, which are a static combination of lights and pyrotechnic effects. They will take a name, or a logo, create the outline in lights, and then enhance it with fireworks. I asked him how the pyrotechnics don’t shatter the bulbs. Of course, the moment the words came out of my mouth, I knew what he was going to say. Phil smiled and said, well that is the proprietary secret sauce, isn’t it?
The Gruccis Design Per Locale Needs
Launching firework displays off of rooftops and stationery objects has become a Grucci signature as well and have been developed for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, Lincoln Center, NY, at All-Star Games, libraries, hotels and resorts.
Whether you are a bank or a city, if you have a firework need, the Gruccis should be on speed-dial.
You Can Become A Grucci Certified Pyrotechnician
Once a year the Grucci family offers training to become a certified pyrotechnician. You have to be older than 21, class size is limited, and you have to be available to work on July 4th.
Tuition is $200 and the NY based classes are held over 2 consecutive weekends, usually in April. You can watch a video on their site, which gives you a glimpse into the classes, which take part in an auditorium, as well as include practical hands-on experience outdoors, both in daylight and at night.
I asked Phil who signs up for these classes. “Everybody,” he exclaimed, “doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, the unemployed, police, firefighters…”.
Once the class is taken, graduates typically work as apprentices for a few years with master pyrotechnicians.
Do You Have A Favorite Firework?
Maybe you are like us, and have fond memories of laying back and watching fireworks with friends and family, and pointing out which ones you like best. Oftentimes the decision changes when a new firework explodes. It is hard to choose. I asked Phil if he has a favorite, and he didn’t pause for even a moment.
“The Golden Flitter Split Comet. My dad developed the effect. It looks like 24 karat gold sparkles, raining down.” He said the expanse of the effect can be the size of a football field. As described on their website, it “displays 600’ in the sky and extends a series of glittering gold comets that create a descending pattern and, after 6 seconds of flight, split into a milky way of gold glitter. This incredibly elegant effect is a crescendo to the bold, dynamic color and bombardment of a Grucci Grand Finale.”
I am going to be looking for that one.
Fireworks For Home Use
Massachusetts is the only state in the US that does not allow the legal sale of any fireworks whatsoever. In other states the allowances vary. For instance, in Vermont you can only purchase sparklers and novelty-type fireworks. The majority of states in the US, however, do allow many kids of fireworks, including aerial.
In states where Phantom Fireworks operates, you can find the Grucci Collection, inspired by Fireworks By Grucci. Items such as the Grucci Gold Silk Crown Willow, the Grucci Panoramic Spectacular, as well as kits and instructions on how to build a show.
Where Can You See Grucci Fireworks?
For viewing a Grucci foreword show, please check the up to date schedule on their website, but here are a few options for July 4th, 2023:
- Empire State Fair at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, LI
- Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam July 4th Celebration, HI
- Key Biscayne 4th of July Celebration, FL
- Radford’s Independence Day Celebration, VA
- Spirit of Springfield’s Independence Day Celebration, MA
- Stars over Montauk July 4th Independence Day Celebration, NY
- Station Casino’s Green Valley Ranch Independence Day Celebration, NV
- Station Casino’s Red Rock Independence Day Celebration, NV
- Town of Vinton’s Independence Day, VA
- Tropicana Independence Day Celebration, NJ
- Yonkers 4th of July Fireworks, NY
We would like to thank the Grucci family for generously providing us with their family history and the photographs for this article.
This article originally appeared on FODMAP Everyday®.
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