July 1978: Zambelli fireworks over Pittsburgh
Like many immigrants, Antonio Zambelli nurtured a big dream. As he journeyed from Italy to America in 1893, he carried his pyrotechnic skills and guarded a little black book that held his family’s recipes for making fireworks.
He settled in New Castle and began building Zambelli Fireworks Internationale. Today, the company has about 52 full-time employees but hires about 2,000 part-time employees each summer.
Since its founding, the business has passed through three more generations of Zambellis and to many Western Pennsylvanians, that name is synonymous with eye-popping displays of colorful, controlled combustion that celebrate everything from the Fourth of July to First Night.
George Zambelli Sr., son of the company’s founder, was the Wizard of Ahhhs. He oversaw fireworks shows for Ronald Reagan’s second inaugural on the White House Lawn, Kuwait Independence Day, the canonization of Mother Seton and the introduction of a perfume by Yves St. Laurent called Opium.
He was still running the company in July 1986 when the Zambellis were one of three fireworks producers to participate in a 28-minute, $2 million display called the Big Bang to celebrate the centennial of the Statue of Liberty.
That triumph in Manhattan held special meaning for family members because Antonio Zambelli, while passing inspection by immigration officers, met his future wife, Maria, at Ellis Island, just across the water from the Statue of Liberty in New York City’s harbor.
In 1992, George Zambelli Sr. traveled to China with his son, Dr. George Zambelli Jr., an ophthalmologist. While the elder Zambelli demonstrated his new Niagara Falls in the Sky shell for the Chinese, who invented fireworks in the 9th century, his son showed doctors at two Beijing hospitals how ultrasonic waves can break cataracts apart.
Today, Dr. George Zambelli Jr. is chairman of the company and his son, Jared, who represents the fourth generation of the family, is a technician in the business.
The family’s passion for blending chemistry, physics and aesthetics into dazzling displays continues and they still consider themselves “painters whose canvas is the night sky,” as described by William Ecenbarger in a 1989 story for The Pittsburgh Press.
As George Zambelli Sr. remarked to Mr. Ecenbarger, “Hey, it’s a dangerous business and you have to trust the person working next to you. That’s why we keep it in the family, OK?”