Googling "bottle rockets" brings up lots of results about the water rockets you might have used in middle school science class. While these were fun at the time, they're definitely not the type of bottle rocket we're talking about today. We're talking the big, bright boom-makers mentioned in The Star-Spangled Banner.
You've seen bottle rockets in action if you've ever been to a New Year's or Fourth of July fireworks show. Small in size but big in personality, these bad boys are a must-have for fireworks shows any time of year.
But what exactly are bottle rockets? Where did they come from? How do they work? Take a seat and open your notebooks, class, because we're about to answer all these questions and more. Let's get started.
What Are Bottle Rocket Fireworks?
Bottle rockets are a type of skyrocket, which are some of the oldest and most iconic fireworks used today. Like basically every other type of firework, their history begins in medieval China. In the 13th century A.D., Chinese technicians filled bamboo tubes with gunpowder, creating the first rocket engines.
The Chinese military used these early rockets as weapons. To compensate for the rockets' lack of accuracy, soldiers would set them off at ground level to confuse their opponents. They would also sometimes attach them to arrows and launch them into the air.
They also had uses off the battlefield. For centuries, you could find early bottle rockets at celebrations in the royal court.
Chinese scientists continued improving their original designs to create more powerful and accurate rockets. And once the technology began spreading through the Silk Road, the bottle rocket as we know it was born.
How Do Bottle Rockets Work?
Although bottle rockets are simple fireworks, they've got a big personality. To understand how they work, you have to understand how they're made.
Need a crash course in bottle rocket anatomy? Bottle rockets have three main parts:
- Rocket engine: The rocket's tube-shaped cardboard body contains black powder or some other kind of explosive substance. This fuel sits at the open bottom of the tube. The sealed top end of the tube connects to the nose cone and points toward the sky during launch.
- Nose cone: The nose cone is the pointed end of the firework that faces upward during launch. It makes the firework more aerodynamic, so the rocket can cut through the sky easier, which allows it to reach high altitudes in only a few seconds. All the fun, sparkly stuff sits in the nose cone, which creates the firework's unique effects.
- Guide stick: This is the long stick attached to the rocket. Its purpose is to stabilize the rocket in flight, especially for rockets without fins. The guide stick also holds the rocket in place while you light it.
The effects you'll see will vary depending on each rocket's unique chemical composition. Some of the most common effects include:
- Bright colors
- Glitter or strobing
Some rockets also contain a special whistling mix to produce a loud whistling noise as they shoot into the air.
Now that you know the anatomy of a bottle rocket, here's how you can launch one:
- Find space: First, take your rockets and audience to a wide, open area. These rockets can shoot up to 50-75 feet (or higher!) in the air, so it's best to avoid areas near tall structures like buildings, trees and power lines. Keep a bucket of water or a hose nearby in case you need to extinguish any duds.
- Stabilize: The preferred launching pad is a specially designed rocket launcher, but you can brace your rocket in a metal or plastic bottle, tube or pipe. Many people also plant the guide stick directly in the ground. The one material you should avoid is glass, which can shatter.
- Aim: Point the rocket skyward. Make sure the stick is stable before launching — you don't want the rocket falling over and setting Grandma on fire!
- Light: The best way to light a rocket is using a punk or an extended lighter. Once you light up, the fuel ignites and gives off hot gases. These gases flow into the air gap between the fuel and the sealed end, causing it to expand. The tube continues to expand until the rocket launches into the sky and explodes in a massive BANG!
If you notice that your rocket is sputtering or malfunctioning — don't touch it! Most fireworks injuries happen when people try to handle duds. Instead, douse it in water and dispose of it.
For more fireworks safety tips, check out our safety FAQ page!
The 5 Best Bottle Rockets on the Market
Whether you're looking for the best bottle rockets to add to your New Year's display or you just want a sparkly new toy to experiment with — hey, we've been there — we've got you covered.
Here are our top five bottle rocket recommendations for 2023:
- Whiz-Bang Whistling Bottle Rockets: These classic bottle rockets let out a fun whistling noise as they shoot high into the sky. The loud silver bang provides a satisfying payoff.
- Neon Fusion XL Rocket Packs: Like everything else in the Chroma line, the Neon Fusion XL rockets are ultra-colorful and SUPER LOUD. You'll get big, glittering bangs that pack a major punch.
- Space Jam Rockets: These colorful rockets create a swirling galaxy of glittering stars and cosmic brocade crowns. They're sure to mesmerize your audience and give you enough time to get your next boom set up.
- Neon Moon Travelers: These whistling rockets launch into the sky with neon tails and end in a big, crackling boom! They're great to add between bigger booms in sky shows or to warm the audience up for the main act.
- Rock Catz XL Rocket Packs: Cat lovers rejoice — we've got a bottle rocket just for you. Inspired by cat tails, these massive rockets from the Lazer Catz line shoot high into the sky with glittering tails and colorful wave effects. Honor your favorite feline friend with these striking booms.
Light up the sky by mixing your bottle rockets in with other aerial fireworks like Roman candles or mortar blasts. You could also add some ground-level elements, like sparkling fountains or ground spinners, for a little extra variety.
Find the Best Bottle Rockets at Red Apple Fireworks
We don't mean to brag, but… who are we kidding? We totally do! At Red Apple Fireworks, we scour the earth to find the finest materials and manufacturers. It may seem like a lot, but it's 100% worth it to create the biggest and brightest bottle rockets on the market.
Plus, all our fireworks are made in the USA, so you know you're getting the good stuff. Get started prepping for your New Year's bash by checking out our rockets page to see what we've got.