The Hoot

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by andrew • July 31

July has finished. For the kids in my Brooklyn neighborhood, that's not a good enough excuse to stop lighting illegal fireworks on a nightly basis. They seem to have caches of contraband that can last all summer.

I can't blame them. As a curious kid with a penchant for destruction, I used to stock up whenever I crossed state lines on vacation—hiding the explosives in any cranny I could find in my family's minivan. It wasn't that out of line. In fact, kids have been stockpiling fireworks for generations.

Thankfully so, because the vintage fireworks leftover from summers past provides a fascinating case study in product labeling. Few other sources could provide such strong examples of bizarre visual storytelling and exaggerations in the effort to conjure anticipation of using the product.

Take a look for yourself:

In an arms race without advertisements, the packaging needed to do all of the heavy lifting. The art needed to spark your imagination with all the excitement that could happen if you gave it a spark.

The whole selling point was danger, excitement, and potency. The bigger, the better—the more violent, the better—the more disgusting, exotic and weird, the better—even if it all culminated in something that was disappointing… a dud. It lasted less than 5 seconds, but what an incredible 5 seconds it could be.

They were everything that your parents feared, and that's exactly what made them great. They were a taste of true defiance, meant to mangle mailboxes and trashcans, and terrorize the neighbors. They had to look the part.

“Fireworks Buying Tip: Always go for the girly names. HELLBEAST will fizzle & pop, but *sHiMmErInG PrInCeSs* will annihilate half your block."

—Jon Contino