Today’s success story features one of the pillars of the fireworks industry: Syd Howard. Despite challenges in both his career and personal life, he’s put on shows for some of the biggest events of the century.
Syd Howard and his family’s company, Howard & Sons, were responsible for some of the best fireworks shows in the world. Syd’s most notable fireworks display was in 1986, during the 75th Anniversary Review of the Royal Australian Navy. He used the Sydney Harbour Bridge to launch his fireworks, and pioneered the “waterfall” pyrotechnic effect, as well as a congratulatory message written by thousands of cigarette-style fireworks. This show launched him and his family’s company into the spotlight, and soon they were invited to produce displays for major events such as the opening of the Sydney Opera House, and became the official pyrotechnic suppliers for Disneyland and Disneyworld.
Behind the Bang
In addition to being dangerous to handle, fireworks displays are complicated and difficult to produce. The chemical composition of each pyrotechnic device has to be carefully measured, combined, and packed in order to achieve the desired result. Pyrotechnicians like Syd use dozens of types of fireworks, each with different triggers, colors, effects, and timing fuses. They range from huge, powerful airbursts to tiny, potent squibs, and new ones are being created all the time. Full-length pyrotechnic displays can run anywhere up to ten minutes, and involve tens of thousands of individual fireworks.
One of Syd’s notable creations is the waterfall, which is a continuous stream of fireworks sparks falling down ground level. It involves propellant, mixed with titanium, burning in an open tube. As the sparks burn they eject out of the open tube end and fall to the ground, thus creating the “waterfall” illusion.
A third-generation pyrotechnician, Australian Syd Howard was brought up in the family business originally created by his grandfather, Sydney Howard Senior. Sydney’s son, Harry Howard, helped produce the fireworks displays to celebrate the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932, as well as other major festivals and events. He then took over the reins when Sydney passed. Harry’s sons, Syd and Les, were brought into the business from an early age, and quickly adopted their elder’s love for fireworks.
Unfortunately, the relationship between the three Howards began to degrade as they argued over the company’s direction. Eventually, Syd created his own company, Syd Howard Fireworks International, leaving his father Harry and brother Les to maintain the family business on their own with Les’ sons, Christian and Andrew. There was intense competition for some time after their split, but eventually Syd’s talent and industry contacts put him on top.
Because of this rivalry and ill feeling, Syd and his father were unable to reconcile before Harry passed away. Over time, however, Syd’s animosity towards his brother lessened, which culminated in a visit to Les’ hospital bed and a tour of the new Howard & Son facilities. Les passed away from cancer soon after, leaving Syd the sole survivor of the older generation.
Passing the Torch
Syd’s relationship with Les’ sons, Christian and Andrew, was more cordial than with his brother and father. The three eventually began to discuss the possibility of Syd’s retirement and a merger between Howard & Sons and Syd Howard Fireworks International.
Then tragedy struck. An explosion at the Howard & Sons factory leveled the facility, costing them a quarter of their stock and destroying nearly every building on site. Despite being told by insurance companies that their chances of recovering were slim, Christian and Andrew pushed on. They have since continued their business and have been able to deliver on every one of their commitments.
The spark that is the Howard brand name of pyrotechnics has not died out. In fact, it burns brighter than ever before.