For the sake of completeness in this historical sketch, a brief reference must be made to some phases in the art of aerial fire that have no concern with purposes of spectacular entertainment.
The rocket - that most curious projectile, complete in itself, needing neither cannon nor gun to launch its flight - was doubtless as fascinating to its discoverers as it is to-day to those engaged with it. Its possibilities as a weapon were early appreciated and developed. The Hindus, for example, employed war rockets against British troops at the time of the mutiny. No garniture of stars or balls or serpents was carried by these rockets, to be discharged at the termination of flight. They were designed strictly for offensive purposes. The charge was contained in a section of bamboo cane, and this was headed with a cap of metal, from which a sharp point protruded. The sides of the bamboo were pierced with little pipes, from which, during the burning of the charge, flames issued. Since the metal point would hold the rocket fast to any structure with which it came in contact, the contrivance served admirably as an incendiary agent. But it was, too, no mean weapon to wound or slay. For this purpose, the Hindus so aimed it that it should make almost an horizontal flight.
In the latter part of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, there was great activity on the part of those enthusiastic over pyrotechnic devices as war instruments. A rocket corps even was made a part of the British Army. Rocket missiles were used against Americans in the Revolutionary War, and they were frequently employed in battles on the Continent of Europe. This period witnessed also many other inventions for military use, such as the carcasse, the murdering marron, the pyrophore, and the like. These will be described fully in a subsequent chapter.
This development gradually ceased, as the great improvements in other departments of ordnance rendered it essentially ineffective, by comparison.
But another variation in the use of rockets was destined to no such ignominious conclusion. The value of this means for signaling at night was realized. Rockets soon became a necessary part in the equipment of all military forces, whether on land or sea, and so they remain to this day.
Rockets were also made to carry a load for illuminating purposes, attached to a minature parachute. These were the direct precursors of the vastly more powerful parachute flares produced to-day, which are to be described later on.
The use of rockets to signal distress at sea is too familiar to require description. There has been invented also a form of rocket capable of carrying in its flight a light line by which to establish communication between a vessel and the shore.
This cursory historical survey would be incomplete without reference to one other most modern development in the art of aerial fire. That development is the use of electricity for purposes of display. Within a single generation the great cities of the world have become emblazoned with electric fires. Everywhere is the glare of signs to guide the beholder, to charm him, to bewilder him, often to bedevil him. They flaunt coursing flames; they put to shame the rainbow. They render the vista either glorious or grotesque, but always inescapably, overwhelmingly spectacular. The evils we now tolerate will pass as commercialism learns to interpret itself within esthetic limits, and this latest phase of pyro-techny will eventually yield us, from its inexhaustible resources, new and ever increasing beauties to delight astonished eyes.
And now a hint as to the future history of pyrotechny:
It is undeniable that, in the contemporary advance of science generally, and of chemistry specifically, pyrotechny has lagged behind. But the exigencies of the World War have demonstrated much as to the potentialities of this art, and from appreciation of the truth has been evolved a new energy toward accomplishment. There will come a great and varied achievement not only in directions already known, but also in many others as yet unguessed. Today, vast quantities of colored flares are used on the railways where they safeguard transportation under conditions that render the usual lights dangerously dim or wholly invisible. Equal usefulness for pyrotechnical devices will be manifested presently in diverse and important operations.
The art of aerial fire in the future shall effectively minister to our love of beauty; it shall give its resources freely to the harsh needs of war; but, too, it shall also serve us in manifold other ways of industrial importance - shall serve us cunningly and well.