Fourth of July Fireworks Cut in Town of Princeton

Boy Scout Troop 43 of Princeton marches in the Spirit of Princeton's Memorial Day Parade. File photo by Louise Forman.
Boy Scout Troop 43 of Princeton marches in the Spirit of Princeton’s Memorial Day Parade. File photo by Louise Forman.


For the last 19 years, residents in Princeton have enjoyed fireworks on the week of July 4. But now after all these years the annual fireworks, funded by private donors, have come to an end.

“This year heartbreaking to say after 19 years of having the fireworks we have to cut it out because it was draining our funds down,” said Ray Wadsworth if the Spirit of Princeton. “You have to make a cut somewhere when you don’t have the money.”

Wadsworth said Princeton University alumnus and local resident Herb Hobler has raised money from “big donor “classmates in the past to support the Spirit of Princeton’s activities.

A survey of donors was conducted about whether the Spirit of Princeton should have fireworks of not. The cost is almost $20,000 annually.

“That’s a lot of money to be pulling out of the endowment,” Wadsworth said. “The survey came back and they put down their answer — why do you have to have the fireworks after we have our Princeton University reunions? The university puts on about $45,000 worth of fireworks for their reunions. So we looked at it and we said we would cut out the fireworks.”

The Spirit of Princeton coordinates other activities like the town’s Memorial Day Parade and Veterans’ Day ceremony.

“It was heartbreaking (to eliminate the fireworks) but I want to see this thing go on when I leave this planet,” Wadsworth said of the other activities.

Wadsworth said he began raising money for the fireworks two decades ago by putting coffee cans out in downtown stores that solicited donations.

“Herb Hobler came and said he would like to help out. He worked with us, raised a lot of money from his classmates at the University, and we went to Council  and created a program where people could get bricks named on a walkway on Palmer Square,” he said.

The Spirit of Princeton raised about $300,000 and placed it in an endowment.

“It Wasn’t too long after that, that the recession came in,” he said. “We had money in the endowment but then everything went down. We thought we could live off of that interest and pull out a few pennies here and there. Well that didn’t come true.”

Wadsworth said the Spirit of Princeton is still looking to bring the endowment back up to where it was. Princeton University has donated $10,000.

Councilwoman Jo Butler asked why the Spirit of Princeton doesn’t seek out businesses and other sponsors to underwrite the fireworks.

“We can’t do that after telling the big donors from Princeton University that we won’t have them,” Wadsworth said. “Some of them are putting in big money.”

Butler questioned why sponsors can’t underwrite individual events.

“Why would big donors care if someone comes along and say they’ll pay for it?” Wadsworth said any money donated to the organization must go into the endowment and can’t be earmarked for a specific event.

“They can’t say they’ll give money just for the parade,” he said. “No one can underwrite a specific event.”


  1. I don’t understand the explanation for why they won’t raise money from new donors. A lot of people like the annual fireworks. I bet a lot of people would contribute money if they were asked and if they were aware that the event needs funding. Instead, they’re just closing it down without trying to reach out to new donors? I don’t get it.

    1. If I am reading this properly, it appears the issue is the alumni. They have their fireworks, but have no interest in the community. They would rather not even approach non-alumni for donations, because Princeton should remain beholden to the alumni for their sacrifices of putting up with this town.

      The University and its alumni seem to be making every effort (outside of “communiversity,” which is held on the streets of Princeton rather than the campus) to distance themselves from the community.

  2. Be that as it may Mr. Bill, lets be grateful for the wonderful events that they have put on in the past – Mr Wadsworth and Mr. Hobler – thank you both very much – you have both done yuuge amounts for our community over the years and we all salute you and your example of civic generosity. Hoorah Hoorah!

  3. Seems like the perfect opportunity for a certain local university widely perceived as selfish to start mending its increasingly tarnished image.

  4. Please riddle-me this: how is it that one of the richest towns around can’t afford fireworks?

  5. The majority of kids who enjoy fireworks in this town are more likely to be citizens of the USA than alumni of Princeton University, so I don’t know why the fact that fireworks are part of PU reunion festivities negates the the reason for having fireworks for kids & families to celebrate the Fourth of July. (Our family for one is aware that the reunion fireworks are supposed to be “better” than the Fourth of July Fireworks, but we go to the latter rather than the former because we feel more connected to the Fourth of July than we do to events celebrating PU alumni.) Am I understanding correctly that the Spirit of Princeton is afraid that University donors will be offended if there is an attempt to raise the money to have town Fourth of July fireworks? Have those donors specifically said as much?

  6. First many thanks to Mr Wadsworth and Mr. Hobler for the many ways that they have given back to Princeton over the years. However, if the Spirit of Princeton gives up the fireworks, then maybe another organization can take up the event. Certainly, the Lambertville and New Hope local businesses were able to successfully get fireworks going there. There should be a way to make this happen given the reunion event just does not get the same crowds from town that come out for the 4th of July event.

  7. I won’t miss the fireworks. Yes, they look pretty, but they are insanely expensive, they glorify war, and they pollute the air. I would much rather see that money spent on feeding, clothing, housing, and educating people in need in our community. The university provides an enormous display in May, so anyone who can’t live without fireworks can go to that.

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