The Next Best Thing to Calling Upon Santa Claus*

This post might be a little late for the Fourth of July, but since all the fireworks won’t be used up until at least the end of this week, the following ode to a purveyor of these fantastic, explosive creations might not come amiss.

What would a good old fashioned Fourth of July be without Roman candles, one and two pound flowerpots, lady fingers, sky rockets, torpedoes, Vesuvius Fountains and punk?  Before 1937, Iowa allowed the sale of fireworks, and everyone laid in stock for Independence Day.  And odds were that if those dazzling beauties were purchased in the Tri-Cities, the money was spent in one of the half dozen temporary Feeney’s Fireworks stores.

Feeney’s Fireworks was the brainchild of John A. Feeney, who had sold fireworks in his store at 228 East Third Street from about 1920 to 1927.   He had the idea of renting several empty store buildings in Davenport and Rock Island and stocking them up as temporary fireworks stores. These stores were decorated, too, with flags and bunting in patriotic colors—and if that wasn’t attractive enough, Feeney also gave away a packet of fireworks free to the first hundred, hundred and fifty, or two hundred kids who visited his store. 

The children would spend all day choosing their favorites, only spending a dollar or two extra, but it all added up.  Sales must have been spectacular—according to newspaper accounts,* the evening skies around here shone like a colorful high noon, the air smelled like burnt matches and cordite, and the sidewalks were ankle deep with the remains of spent firecrackers.  Needless to say, the noise was incredible. 

In 1937, Iowa passed a law forbidding the sale of fireworks, and Mr. Feeney closed his temporary stores for good.  While the pets of Iowa no doubt rejoiced, the human population, especially the younger set, probably did not. 

As for the Davenport lovers of fireworks, they most likely paid a surreptitious visit across the river and returned with bulging pockets and oddly-shaped packages, just in time to celebrate the Fourth with a fiery—and loud—show of independence. 

And maybe for the following week as well.


*”Who Can Forget the Feeneys and their Fireworks Stores?” Times-Democrat   July 4, 1965 page 4D   by Jim Arpy

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