Since 1976, millions of spectators have gathered throughout the city on July 4th to marvel at the grandeur of Macy’s annual Independence Day fireworks. Whether it’s over the East River or Hudson River, Macy’s has always put on a jaw-dropping display from barges on the water, synchronized to music. Yet, what we see as a New York 4th of July tradition actually began as something unrelated to the holiday.
Macy’s first-ever fireworks show was a celebration of Macy’s 100th Anniversary, rather than America’s birthday. On July 1st, 1958, over the Hudson River, a million people watched the store’s first-ever large-scale pyrotechnics show. It wasn’t until 1976, in partnership with The Walt Disney Company, that Macy’s 4th of July fireworks shot became an annual tradition. That year, the fireworks were set off in honor of America’s bicentennial. The show was first televised in 1991.
This year, Macy’s 47th fireworks show will feature 30 different colors and shapes, 60,000 firework shells, and an arrangement of 2,400 shell effects per minute. Altogether, it takes 50 miles of cabling and 1,600 lines of computer-programmed cues to run the show. This new hi-tech production is quite different from how the show was programmed in the 1970s when computer-generated cues were not nearly as quick or efficient. The fireworks used to be manually launched from the barges by a single person with one metal rod.
The onboard preparation of shells and firing mortars still takes up to 12 days, but this year’s barges have 50 pyrotechnicians on hand. On the barges, they hand-load each one of the shells into the mortars and then hand-wire those shells into the computer.
Macy’s 4th of July fireworks presentation for 2023 began like all the others that came before it, with an original musical score. The fireworks display was developed to match and synchronize with the chosen song. This year’s 25-minute arrangement features an original version of From Sea to Shining Sea, performed by the United States Army Field Band under composer Ray Chew. The new effects to match, produced and designed by Pyro Spectaculars and Souza, include a mile-wide waving flag with red crackling pistil shells, pyrotechnics that are much more detailed and vibrant than what you may have seen in 1976.
The show will stream on live Peacock and NBC. The barges will launch between East 26th and East 40th Streets and Macy’s has on-site, official viewing points where guests are recommended to watch from, like Gantry Plaza State Park in Queens, WNYC Transmitter Park in Brooklyn, and three points along First Avenue in Manhattan. The best viewing spots will be any area with an unobstructed view of the East River skyline in Midtown Manhattan, Greenpoint in Brooklyn, and Long Island City in Queens. To get the full experience, spectators today can also tune into the radio station, 1010 WINS, or use the app, to hear the whole full score of original music.