Revolutionizing fireworks: Mitchell resident devotes lifetime to passionCam Starr has been in the fireworks industry since 1947. Then 11 years old, Starr rode his bike around Lake Mitchell and even to Mount Vernon to pick up bottles to sell so he could buy fireworks. Around the same time, he said a picture of a pile of money in an advertisement in The Daily Republic caught his eye.
By: T.J. Jerke, The Daily Republic
Cam Starr has been in the fireworks industry since 1947.
Then 11 years old, Starr rode his bike around Lake Mitchell and even to Mount Vernon to pick up bottles to sell so he could buy fireworks. Around the same time, he said a picture of a pile of money in an advertisement in The Daily Republic caught his eye.
The picture was accompanied by a quote: “Get your share of a fireworks profit.”
It helped Starr realize his true passion. He took $30 worth of fireworks his uncle bought for him, turned a profit and took his interest in fireworks and excitement for the Fourth of July to a new level.
“I have always loved them,” Starr said. “I tried to talk my dad into buying me fireworks and he thought I was crazy, but luckily my uncle thought it was a good deal and put up the $30. That’s how I started and have been in it ever since.”
Starr has taken that initial interest and turned it into a career that has allowed him to help revolutionize the American fireworks industry. He set up his first stand in 1947 in a ditch where the Super City Mall now stands. In the years since, he has started his own brand of fireworks, lobbied to change national fireworks laws and even started the National Fireworks Association.
Although he’s slowed down from the national scene somewhat, Starr still can be found this time of year behind the counter at All-Star Fireworks, which this year moved into a new building west of the Ramada Inn in Mitchell.
“We tell customers to look for our red, white and blue roof because it’s our guarantee for quality for less,” Starr said. “The new building is a lot cleaner and cooler with a much nicer floor. Customers tell us it is a much better building than the previ- ous one.”
For 30 years, Starr operated fireworks stands and factories in Fargo, Grand Forks, Minot and Williston, N.D., before selling those operations and moving back to Mitchell with his wife, Jennifer, to semi-retire. Still, he’s finding it difficult to get completely out of the fireworks industry.
“I want to revolutionize the industry and bring in things we haven’t had before,” he said. “I think that’s fun and exciting.”
As a result of Starr’s eagerness, he’s known throughout the industry for his efforts to help change a law that once limited fireworks to only 200 grams. Starr helped bring about a change that made the maximum 500 grams.
In the early ’70s, Starr manufactured a four-shot rack that connected 16 different shots amounting to 720 grams. Although the tubes were separated by an inch, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said that particular firework had too much power. The disagreement was taken to a federal hearing in St. Paul, Minn., and was settled within three days, Starr said.
As a result of that hearing, Starr was granted an exemption to sell the 720-gram fireworks. Soon after, Chinese fireworks companies became a part of the exemption, which prompted the government to change the law increasing the maximum load from 200 to 500 grams.
Today, Starr is still able to sell his 720-gram 16-shot rack as part of the exemption.
“The fireworks industry is totally different than what it would have been,” Starr said. “Since the cat was out of the bag after we obtained our exemption, it was a matter of time until the law was changed.”
Buoyed by his work lobbying for new firework laws, Starr created the National Fireworks Association to help get firework manufacturers and distributors on the map. In 1993, he sent out a letter titled “A Call To Arms,” bringing top fireworks distributors together to pursue common goals.
In the years since, the NFA has become the second largest fireworks organization in the United States. Starr served one term as the NFA’s first president and is now the president-emeritus.
Shortly after Starr returned to Mitchell, he created the Angelfire Sparkler, which he describes as a cross between a sparkler and a torch.
“You can hold it in your hand without getting hurt because it emits cold fire,” Starr said. “Although we don’t recommend kids do this, you can actually run your hand through the sparks and not burn yourself.”
As a result of the Angelfire, Starr had Chinese firework manufacturers knocking at his door here in Mitchell, wanting the instructions on how to make it. Starr said All-Star Fireworks perfected the plans and gave the formula to the manufacturers, all in the same night.
Other All-Star fireworks that have found their way to manufacturers in China include a style of firecrackers called Super Flash Bombs, and designed pattern shells that burst with outlines of diamonds, four-leaf clovers, hearts, a more famous fivepoint star and a 350-foot-long elephant pattern.
At the same time, All-Star Fireworks has been moving to commercialize its fireworks displays at events around South Dakota. Jennifer Starr has been in charge of the displays since they began shooting them about six or seven years ago.
The company provided the display for the June 19 Heart and Sole Cancer Walk at the Mitchell Middle School, along with four or five shows with Thomsen Enterprises.
Friday, All-Star will shoot fireworks at the Gateway to the West Fest at the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village, near Lake Mitchell. All-Star has also been commissioned to shoot the Fourth of July fireworks at the Rushmore Speedway on Saturday in Rapid City.
Cam Starr said he enjoys the beauty of fireworks. That beauty, he said, is what brings people together.
“I like how fireworks make people happy and bring people together who don’t normally do things together,” he said. “If there is a group of people watching and having fun, many see the beautiful thing in the air and want to share it with somebody.”