The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Top Stories

July 1, 2013

Jake’s Fireworks in Pittsburg cited as classic American story

PITTSBURG, Kan. — What began as a way for a coal mining family to help put food on the table has evolved into the nation’s top distributor of consumer-grade fireworks.

The success story prompted one of those who gathered to celebrate Monday to refer to it as “the American dream.”

In the 1930s, Johnnie Marietta and his mother, Mimi, opened a small country store at the corner of Lone Star Road and West Highway 126 just outside Pittsburg. Mimi Marietta’s husband, an Italian immigrant, had been killed in the coal mines, and the family needed an income.

They were joined in the endeavor by Johnnie Marietta’s wife, Helen, and eventually his sons, John and Mike “Jake” Marietta, who wanted to supplement their teachers’ salaries with summertime fireworks stands.

“But their idea of fireworks was much different than ours today,” noted John Marietta of his father’s early days in the business. “They had a little table in the back of the store.”

During World War II, cattails scavenged from roadsides and farm ponds were dipped in kerosene for use as sparklers, because chemicals and materials typically used in fireworks were needed in the war effort.

John and Mike Marietta also had sons who joined the business, including Mick, Jacob and Jason. The company — Jake’s Fireworks — grew to become the leading distributor of wholesale and retail fireworks in the United States, with operations in six states and China. Cattails and kerosene have been replaced by injection molding and closely guarded systems that are unique to the industry.

In May, Helen Marietta died at age 86, having continued working until her death. She narrowly missed being able to see a milestone, Mick Marietta noted.

On Monday, her surviving family members joined with 100 employees, about 100 members of the Chamber of Commerce, and national, state and local elected officials to cut the ribbon on a 500,000-square-foot operation on 48 acres in the Pittsburg Industrial Park.

“This is an American company,” said Mick Marietta, now the company’s chief executive officer. “It’s an American story.

“This Thursday, the Fourth of July, people throughout the country are going to celebrate their freedom, celebrate their patriotism, and millions of people are going to be shooting world class fireworks coast to coast because of Pittsburg, Kan., because of this community, because of all of you.”

The building previously was occupied by Superior Industries, and the new occupancy also is a Pittsburg success story, noted Mayor Michael Gray.

The building had been vacant since Superior closed down operations in 2008. The closure displaced nearly 600 employees. The plant produced aluminum wheels for the automotive industry.

Jake’s, meanwhile, was trying to find a large enough and efficient enough space to serve as national headquarters for its growing operations — sorely needed, department heads said, because the company was bursting at the seams with just 100,000 square feet divided among three cramped buildings throughout Pittsburg.

“We had 400 shipping containers outside we’d have to pick product out of,” said Scott Moutz, a 13-year employee who is in charge of production. “It wasn’t efficient at all.”

City leaders worked on negotiations for nearly four years to keep Jake’s headquarters in Pittsburg. To help with the purchase of the Superior building — at the time the largest commercial space for sale in the state — the Economic Development Advisory Committee last June recommended approval of a $700,000 loan at an interest rate of 3 percent on a three-year term.

In return, the company must create five new jobs each year for three years. The company also made a sizable investment in renovating the building and installing protective measures such as fire curtains, fire-retardant paint, sprinkler systems and heat release hoods.

Had the deal fallen through, Jason Marietta said, the company might have had to move to another state that could accommodate its growing operations.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., one of several elected officials who spoke during the ceremony, praised the family members for their determination in building a successful business for themselves, for their descendants and for those they employ. He also noted the company’s contribution of $250,000 to the Folds of Honor Foundation, which provides scholarships to children whose parents were killed during military service.

“This is the American dream,” Moran said. “When we shoot the fireworks, we’ll be honoring the American dream exhibited here in Pittsburg, Kan., by Jake’s Fireworks.”

State Sen. Jacob LaTurner, R-Pittsburg, expressed similar sentiments and read a letter of congratulations from Gov. Sam Brownback.

“The Southeast Kansas economy has seen some rough days, and while there is still work to be done, I believe it’s safe to say that the Southeast Kansas economy is on the rebound and that Jake’s Fireworks is leading the way,” LaTurner said.

Color guard

A COLOR GUARD from First United Methodist Church Boy Scout Troop 151 conducted a flag presentation to kick off the ceremony, and members of the Pittsburg State University Pride of the Plains Band played several selections. In return, Jake’s sent each troop and band member home with a package of fireworks.

Text Only
Top Stories
  • Britain Easter Pilgri_Cast.jpg SLIDESHOW: Good Friday observances around the world Around the world, Christians are coming together in observance of Good Friday, which they believe was the day Jesus was crucified. Here are some photos from Good Friday commemorations around the world.

    April 18, 2014

  • 041714 School safe rooms4_72.jpg Joplin school district readies community safe rooms for storm season

    Thousands of Joplin residents will soon be able to stay safe during storms in some of the region’s newest shelters. Community safe rooms at Cecil Floyd, Stapleton, McKinley and Eastmorland elementary schools, which double as gymnasiums, and Junge Field, which will double as a field house, are expected to be open within the next few weeks, according to Mike Johnson, the school district’s director of construction.

    April 17, 2014 2 Photos

  • Public hearing set on posed TIF district

    Financial details of a proposed new tax increment financing district for the Silver Creek Galleria area will be discussed in detail at an April 28 public hearing, members of the city’s TIF Commission were told Thursday. Chris Williams, a TIF attorney representing the city of Joplin, told the panel the Thursday meeting was intended to walk commissioners through the public hearing steps.

    April 17, 2014

  • 041714 Treble Makers.jpg Carl Junction ‘Treble Makers’ to sing at Springfield Cardinals’ stadium

    Next month, 75 Carl Junction sixth-grade students will sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Hammons Field before a Springfield Cardinals game. And with more than 600 parents, family members and other residents planning to attend, the May 3 event has been dubbed “Carl Junction Day.”

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Volunteer projects spark two bills in Jefferson City

    Bills moving through the Missouri House and Senate were inspired by a volunteer project in Carl Junction last year that stalled over a question of whether those volunteers had to be paid prevailing wage under Missouri law. “This bill is very simple. All it says is if someone is a volunteer, they won’t be forced to be paid prevailing wage,” state Rep. Charlie Davis, R-Webb City, told lawmakers during a hearing on his bill last week.

    April 17, 2014

  • Missouri House votes to expand sales tax exemptions

    Pizza parlors, doughnut shops and even convenience stores all could be in line for a tax break on the food that they make and sell as a result of a measure moving through the Missouri Legislature.

    April 18, 2014

  • 3 To Get Ready

    Three things coming your way in Friday’s Joplin Globe.

    April 17, 2014

  • More volunteers, donations sought for ‘Victory 4 Haiti’

    The second meals-for-Haiti project, scheduled for April 26, is in need of donations and volunteers, organizers say. “Victory 4 Haiti,” a food-packaging event that will provide meals to the Haitian Christian Mission in the village of Fond-Parisien and elsewhere in Haiti, needs $60,000 to pay for about 280,000 meals.

    April 16, 2014

  • TIF proposal filed for development of area at 44th Street and Range Line

    Joplin’s Tax Increment Financing Commission will hold an informational meeting today on a proposal to establish a TIF district to pay for a wetlands project on property in the area of 44th Street and Range Line, where a developer wants to build a retail, office and hospitality district.

    April 16, 2014

  • 041614 MDOT5_72.jpg JATSO recommends 15 road projects for planning

    The reconstruction of the Highway 171/Interstate 49 interchange at Carthage and the construction of a limited-access highway on the west side of Joplin and Carl Junction are among the top highway projects to be identified by the Joplin Area Transportation Study Organization.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo