What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A very grand and magnificent FIREWORK.”
Newspaper advertisements reveal some of the entertainments enjoyed by colonizers, including fireworks displays. In the summer of 1773, for instance, John Laugeay organized and promoted a “very grand and magnificent FIREWORK, superior to any thing of the kind ever shewn here” for the “Ladies and Gentlemen” of Philadelphia who purchased tickets from him or at the London Coffee House.
His advertisement in the June 30 edition of the Pennsylvania Journal provided an extensive description of the different kinds of fireworks the audience would enjoy on July 14, including “one large Windmill, three large, and three small Wheels, six Pigeons, nine Serpentine Boxes, twelve Italian Candles, [and] six large, and six small Cherry Trees.” In addition, he hoped to entice certain genteel gentlemen with a “superb Wheel of running fire, containing the arms of the antient and noble order of free and accepted Masons.” Laugeay devised another spectacle that he expected would resonate with the entire audience, including those with concerns about the tense relationship between the colonies and Parliament. He intended for them to experience a sense of patriotism and belonging within the empire when they watched “Two forts of twelve cannon each, one English and the other French, each firing at the other, wherein the English gains the victory.” Beyond those displays, Laugeay promised a “great number of different changes too tedious to particularize.” While the advertisement served as a preview, colonizers would have to see the entire exhibition to truly appreciate all that Laugeay had planned.
Although the fireworks were the primary draw, Laugeay described other elements of the experience he would create for his audience. In a nota bene, he asked readers to take note of a “commodious Gallery built for the reception of company,” a comfortable place to socialize before the exhibition and then watch it once it began. He also reported that “the band of music from the regiment will attend,” providing the eighteenth-century version of a soundtrack for the production.
“Ladies and Gentlemen who intend honouring the exhibition with their presence” had two weeks to acquire tickets. Laugeay sketched for their imaginations an epic event that they would regret missing if they did not attend. He likely hoped that his advertisement would do more than generate ticket sales. After all, it had the potential to create a buzz among those who purchased tickets and conversed with friends and acquaintances about the upcoming event. In turn, more people might get tickets of their own after hearing that so many others planned to attend. Laugeay presented an opportunity not only to partake in the fireworks, the gallery, and the band, but also the sense of community that so many people, then and now, experience when attending concerts, sporting events, fireworks exhibitions, and other popular culture events.