July 4, 1876 – The United States was celebrating its first centennial eleven years following the end of the Civil War. In Philadelphia, soldiers from the North and South, “the Blue and the Gray”, marched together. There were lively and soul-stirring festivities held throughout the country, speeches galore, fireworks – or “Gunpowder and Glory” as The Times of Philadelphia reported.
As cannons were fired and firecrackers lit, explosions and costly fires marred the festivities for some. In Philadelphia one headline read “A Salute That Cost One Hundred Thousand Dollars”. Around one o’clock on the afternoon of the Fourth, some boys fired off a cannon salute which ignited a pile of chips behind a flour mill. Within fifteen minutes the entire block was engulfed in flames.
“A Dynamite Horror” occurred around the same time elsewhere in Philadelphia. A druggist, Dr. H.H. Bucher, was apparently experimenting with explosives in an attempt to create his own pyrotechnics: