Pioneers are famous for their ingenuity, and when it comes to celebrations, that pioneering spirit led to some crazy traditions. The 4th of July has been a treasured American holiday since we won our independence back in 1776 and our western forebears were determined to celebrate it with all the excitement it deserved.
Western communities would often hold picnics for the 4th. People would gather from miles around to share in baking contests, horse races, children’s games, and lots of good eatin’. Yet they had no fireworks to shoot off in honor of the big day. A handful of rowdy cowboys might ride through town shooting off their guns, but that was nothing special. They needed something big. Something spectacular. Something so phenomenal, the womenfolk would all run for cover.
And that is how the art of anvil shooting was born.
No one knows which blacksmith was crazy enough to start the tradition, but it quickly caught on and became a staple of 19th century July 4th celebrations in the south.
First, you need two well-matched anvils then about a pound of black powder and a fuse. Turn the first anvil upside down on a flat, solid surface. Fill the hollow in the base with the black powder and add the fuse. Often a playing card would be placed over the powder to serve as a washer. Finally, the second anvil, or flier, would be placed right side up atop the first anvil, fitting base to base.
Once everyone was ready, the blacksmith (or other brave individual) would light the fuse and everyone would scurry to a safe distance. When the powder lit, the explosion would shake the ground and send the anvil up to 200 feet in the air. Once the anvil landed it could be shot again, and again, until the supply of powder ran out.
To carry on the tradition, when blacksmiths gather today at large conventions, anvils are usually shot. In fact, the video below is by a world champion anvil shooter.
As you celebrate the 4th of July today, enjoy your family and friends, and when those fireworks explode, you might look out for falling anvils!
- What are your favorite 4th of July traditions?