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The Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks show paved

The Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks show paved the way for other Macy's events. (Credit: Getty Images / Kena Betancur)

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Secrets of the Macy's 4th of July Fireworks show

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It wouldn’t be July Fourth without the crackling of fireworks lighting up the skyline.

The first Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks display took place in 1958 over the New York Harbor. This year marks the show's 42nd anniversary.

Macy's Creative Director Bill Schermerhorn filled us in on behind-the-scenes secrets — like why it's not the 60th anniversary and more.

This year's display, broadcast on NBC, will decorate the East River at 8 p.m. and feature performances by Kelly Clarkson, Ricky Martin, Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and more.

Macy's can use up to 75,000 firework shells

Credit: Getty Images / Yana Paskova

It’s the largest fireworks show in the nation

Macy's can use up to 75,000 firework shells per show; that's more shells than any display in the nation.

Gone are the days when someone physically queued

Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

Everything is run by computers now

Gone are the days when someone physically queued and fired the fireworks from barges. Computers have taken over.

"There used to be shooting shacks with a person and a metal rod," Schermerhorn said. "You'd hear 'fire cue 1, cue 2, cue 3!' Today it's all done by computers."

The fireworks show switched over to digital in the '90s. Using a computer changed the accuracy of the show in relation to the music, Schermerhorn said. The new technology has split-second timing, which manual firing never had.

What better way to celebrate the new millennium

Credit: Getty Images / Yana Paskova

The year 2000 was the largest fireworks show to date

What better way to celebrate the new millennium than with thousands of extra fireworks? The show on July 4, 2000, set off 60,000 firework shells, making it the largest to date, Schermerhorn said.

"It was a very big celebration and was a pretty spectacular sight," he said.

With more than 75,000 shells, this year's show will be the largest display in almost two decades.

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, flower show and

Credit: Courtesy of Macy’s

The fireworks show paved the way for other Macy’s events

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, flower show and other events may not have become as popular as they are today without the fireworks display.

Here's why: "Like many traditions at Macy's, they were around in the late '50s, and in the late '60s, they all kind of went away," Schermerhorn said. The Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks show teamed up with Walt Disney Company in 1976 to celebrate the bicentennial.

Due to the film company's popularity, media credit for that year's show was ultimately given to Disney instead of Macy's, Schermerhorn said. After that, former chairman Edward Finkelstein created a special production team dedicated to Macy's events to ensure credit wouldn't slip through the cracks again, he added. The production team brought back shows that had fallen off the roster through the years.

"That's when the flower show became big. That's why they all became well-known, because of the fireworks event," he said. From 1976 on, the fireworks show became known as an annual tradition. That's also why this year marks the show's 42nd anniversary, even though the first one was technically 60 years ago.

Even with the technology takeover, there's still a

Credit: Courtesy of Macy’s

The music is as precise as a film score

Even with the technology takeover, there's still a team of real artists behind the magic. "The music isn't just a playlist of greatest hits. It's an actual movie score," Schermerhorn explains.

Gary Souza, who's been the lead designer for the past 30 years, works with Schermerhorn and the U.S. Air Force Band, an orchestra of 60 musicians, to arrange the perfect score for each year's show.

"When [Gary] gets epic and fun music, I can guess what he's going to do fireworks wise," Schermerhorn said. Those musical moments combined with the fireworks make for a powerful show.

"You can 'ooh and aah' at fireworks alone, but when you add the music, you get the heart and the passion," Schermerhorn said. "The music combines the heart, head and the thrill of the fireworks. Otherwise, there's something missing."

Credit: Courtesy of Macy’s

Macy's starts planning six months in advance for the show

"When everyone else is singing Christmas carols, I'm singing the 'Star Spangled Banner,'" Schermerhorn said. The fireworks team starts working on the following year's show in December, about six months in advance. By January, they'll have the score set.

Gathering fireworks is one of the main reasons

Credit: Courtesy of Macy’s

The fireworks come from all over the world

Gathering fireworks is one of the main reasons why it takes months to prepare for the show. Macy's always challenges its fireworks company to scout out the best new firework products around the globe each year, Schermerhorn said.

Between 1958 and 1976, the fireworks display covered

Credit: Getty Images / Kena Betancur

The location will always change

Between 1958 and 1976, the fireworks display covered the sky above New York Harbor and along the Hudson. In 1976, it moved over to the East River, where it still takes place today.

"The one thing everyone wants in their backyard is the fireworks outside their door," Schermerhorn said. "It's become tradition that [the show] stays in one neighborhood for a while and moves on."

You can expect that tradition to continue in the future, he added.

Credit: Courtesy of Macy’s

Stick around, the show isn't over

"God bless America, my home, sweet home."

When you hear those lyrics ring out, don't change the channel or pack up your blanket. "God Bless America" and other patriotic tunes are known to mark the finale, but there's technically more to the show.

"What most people don't realize is there's an extra minute and 30 seconds of fireworks" to conclude the grand finale, Schermerhorn said.