Spirit of ’76 Fireworks Celebrates 35th Anniversary
For 35 years, Spirit of ’76 Fireworks president and owner John Bechtold has been helping customers satisfy their fireworks needs while supporting and contributing to the greater fireworks industry. Reaching this milestone was no small endeavor.
A Brief History of ‘76 Fireworks
John Bechtold founded his fireworks business in Columbia, Missouri in 1987 at the age of 16. He began selling consumer fireworks from under a twenty-by-forty-foot tent in the parking lot of the Midway Travel Plaza, which was established by the Bechtold family in the early 1970s. John’s father Bob Bechtold helped him set up the tent, and his father’s bookkeeper Joni Schaumburg assisted with the cash register.
John made a modest profit in his first selling season and would continue operating seasonal firework stands throughout his high school years, college years, and 20s. He operated as many as 5 stands in one season.
In the year 2000, John completed his MBA program at Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University. Thereafter, he became dedicated to a career in fireworks and launched the Spirit of ‘76 wholesale website, 76fireworks.com, in the early 2000s. He focused his early operations on inbound logistics and operated out of the Midway Truck Stop shipping containers, located behind what is now the Spirit of ‘76 Retail Store.
Since our humble beginnings, John has grown the business from seasonal retail sales to a premiere importer and distributor of consumer fireworks serving over 10,000 customers. Under his leadership, Spirit of ‘76 is renowned for its knowledgeable, helpful, and dedicated staff. Each day John and his team continue to strive to provide the safest and highest quality wholesale fireworks paired with the best service in the industry.
“I could have never predicted this level of growth and success for Spirit of ’76 in the year 2000, much less 35 years ago. I’m so grateful for all the loyal support of our staff. I’m also really appreciative of the deep relationships we’ve established with our Chinese suppliers, and the longstanding relationships we’ve earned with our U.S. customers.”John Bechtold, Spirit of ’76 Fireworks founder and president.
We’d like to thank all of our incredible customers for their business, our partners and industry friends for their continued support, and our amazing staff for their years of great work; every one of which has undoubtedly helped our company reach its 35th anniversary and become what it is today. We look forward to many more years of business in which we continue to support the fireworks industry, together. Cheers!
Timeline: The Evolution of Spirit of ‘76 Fireworks
John Bechtold opened his first fireworks tent
At the age of 16, John set up shop under a 20’x40′ tent in the Midway Truck Stop parking lot. He continued to operate seasonal tents throughout his early career.
JB graduated from Rock Bridge High School
John attended high school alongside current ’76ers John Walker (VP of Operations) and Sean Clark (Supply Chain Manager).
JB completed MBA program at Thunderbird
Therafter, John became dedicated to a career in fireworks.
Early operations at Spirit of ’76 were conducted out of Midway Truck Stop shipping containers, and were focused on inbound logistics.
Imported first container from China
John imported his first overseas container from Chinese fireworks supplier Hop Kee. It was the only overseas container he imported that year. Today, Spirit of ’76 is one of the largest wholesale fireworks importers and distributors in the U.S.
Published first Spirit of ’76 catalog
In 2004, Spirit of ’76 Fireworks supplied Cannon Brand, Brothers Pyrotechnics, Mighty Max, Bey Hai, Firehawk, and Black Cat.
We published our annual printed catalog from 2004 to 2019.
Introduced first ’76 Pro Line products
Spirit of ’76 Fireworks became the first fireworks wholesaler to develop a professional 1.4 line. This decision was driven by what our staff witnessed at club shoots and the PGI convention. “We saw consumers breaking apart cakes to take out individual effects,” John said. “It was really inefficient. This was one of the main reasons we decided to develop ’76 Pro Line.”
In 2009, ’76 Pro Line was the first consumer fireworks brand to bring 1.4 single shots and single-effect cakes manufactured in China to the U.S. market at volume.
April 18, 2011
Opened warehouse in Easton, PA
“I feel like having the Easton warehouse really helped drive the market penetration for ’76 in the Northeast U.S.,” said Jay Copin, who managed the warehouse from the day it opened to the day it closed on July 31, 2019.
Moved into current Spirit of ’76 Retail Store building
We opened the Spirit of ’76 Retail Store directly behind the Midway Truck Stop in 2011. Our sales and administrative offices moved from the red double-wide trailer down the road to the offices in the back of the Retail Store, where our main sales office currently resides. The double-wide trailer continued to house our warehouse operations through 2015.
2011 – 2012
Developed Sky Bacon brand and launched first Sky Bacon products
“Sky Bacon is one of the biggest successes of the whole company,” said John Bechtold. The brand turned 10 years old in 2022.
“John decided to come up with a family-friendly brand of fireworks focused on value after the 4th of July, 2011,” said purchasing manager Matt Rhinehart, who came up with the Sky Bacon brand name. “We spent the fall working on the name, logo, and developing products for the 2012 launch.”
“For the products, we tried to play off history,” John said. Among the first Sky Bacon products developed were the Mt Rushmore 500-gram assortment (based on the monument in South Dakota) and the Hellcat Cans (based on the fighter aircraft used during World War II). Today, Sky Bacon products also play off themes in popular culture.
Late 2011 – Early 2012
Launched major update to 76fireworks.com
A custom wholesale site vastly improved the eCommerce experience for our customers and sales staff. It featured:
– More accurate inventory;
– Better product pages;
– Embedded video player;
– More options for marketing.
Prior to this update, the old 76 website functioned as an eCommerce site but had some major setbacks. “It had real-time inventory but not exact numbers like it does today. Customers could complete orders, but no shipping or payment options were given. We would have to call back with a shipping quote and for payment,” said sales rep Matt Snyder.
Purchased first company semi truck
In 2014, the company employed one full-time driver and purchased a Volvo as its first semi truck. In 2022, we employ four full-time drivers and own five semi trucks.
Revamped Spirit of ’76 Logo
Our current Spirit of ’76 logo was introduced in 2014. It was designed by our graphic designer Luis Blanco.
Reached 96-container warehouse operation
Our container operations at the Midway Truck Stop had grown so much to be inefficient by 2015, thus creating the need for a larger warehouse facility.
Purchased 150,000 sq. ft. warehouse in Boonville, MO
“The warehouse acquisition was a transformational point in ’76 growth,” said John. “It was great, a really good purchase.”
Purchased mid-Missouri’s largest fireworks tent
Our retail operations in Missouri grew alongside our wholesale operations. In 2016 we acquired a 70-by-100-foot tent, the largest seasonally operating fireworks tent in mid-Missouri.
Introduced Realtree Fireworks
Our licensing agreement with Realtree made us the first and only U.S. fireworks company to launch an exclusive fireworks brand dedicated to hunting and fishing. We design products specifically for users and fans of the Realtree brand. The first Realtree Fireworks product developed was Snow Trax, a 500 gram single-effect multi shot.
Introduced Tako Pyrotechnics
The Tako line of fireworks was first introduced in 2020 with the 500 gram multi shot Sailor’s Nightmare. “Tako” is Japanese for “octopus.” The eye-catching logo paired with high-quality effects quickly made Tako Pyrotechnics a staple in American consumer fireworks.
Expanded on Boonville warehouse
The 43,500 square foot expansion of our warehouse in Boonville, Missouri was completed in 2021 for a total warehouse facility of 193,500 square feet. A ribbon cutting ceremony for the expansion was held on June 8th, 2021.
Unveiled major trade show booth upgrade
We upgraded our trade show booth with 10×10′ light-up walls, professional signage, and a 20′ spinning tower.
Launched ’76 PyroShop
We officially unveiled ’76 PyroShop, an all-in-one eCommerce solution for the independent fireworks retailer, in 2021 at the National Fireworks Association Expo.
Introduced ’76 Pro Line ITALIA
Our ’76 Pro Line product line expanded with premium professional-use 1.4 fireworks manufactured in Italy by Giuliani Fireworks. ’76 Pro Line ITALIA single-shot comets and mines first hit the market in the spring of 2022.
Announced exclusive distribution agreement with Giuliani Fireworks
Giuliani Fireworks, a major European manufacturer of world-renowned professional fireworks and ’76 Pro Line ITALIA products, made Spirit of ’76 their exclusive distributor for the U.S. market.
Longest Serving Staff
Ben Muzzey, current sales manager, started during the 4th of July season in 2002 working at John Bechtold’s seasonal ‘Coastal Electric’ tent. Ben took a hiatus from Spirit of ’76 beginning October 2011 and returned in October 2014.
Matt Snyder, current sales representative, began working seasonally in 2004 before becoming full time in 2007. He was the sales manager from 2011 to 2015 before moving to Detroit. He left Spirit of ’76 in the spring of 2017 and returned in the late summer of 2019.
Matt Rhinehart, current purchasing manager, started in 2005 as a tent manager.
Sean Clark, current supply chain manager, started in 2006 by managing early warehouse operations at the Midway Truck Stop.
Beth Critchfield, current accounting manager, started working at Spirit of ’76 in 2007.
Fireworks Industry Credentials
Spirit of ‘76 Fireworks is a proud supporter of the following organizations, regional clubs, and industry events, including but not limited to those listed below.
American Pyrotechnics Association – Sustaining Member
National Fireworks Association – Foundation member
Western Pyrotechnic Association – Proud Supporter
Pyrotechnics Guild International – Proud Supporter
American Fireworks Standards Laboratory – Proud Supporter
Industry and Regional Fireworks Events:
WPA’s Western Winter Blast Annual Convention
Cobra Firing Systems’ Cobra-Con Convention
Pyrotechnics Guild International Annual Convention
National Fireworks Association Spring and Fall Expos
American Pyrotechnics Association Spring and Fall Meetings
Sky Wars Invitational Fireworks Championship
Lone Star Fireworks Festival
Brothers Pyrotechnics – we are the largest distributor of Brothers fireworks by SKUs in the U.S.!
Winda Fireworks / Bright Star Fireworks
Hop Kee (Firehawk / Mighty Max)