Few inventions are so universally regarded with awe, excitement and terror as explosives. From their advent in ancient China, where early weapons experts refined sulfur into gunpowder they crammed into clay pots, explosives have done nothing less than alter the course of history. They have diverse applications from warfare, to commercial demolitions and even entertainment in the form of fireworks.
There are three major categories of explosive materials: Chemical explosives involve a reaction between two or more compounds whose result is combustion. Pressurized explosives are those which utilize compressed gas. Finally, nuclear explosions occur either through fission or a combination of fission and fusion at the atomic level.
Gunpowder, which is a blend of sulfur, charcoal and potassium nitrate, was first refined by the Chinese, whose applications for it were so advanced as to span an entire spectrum of military gun-powder propelled projectiles. Essentially the ancient Chinese use of gunpowder constituted the earliest documented instances of weaponized rocketry. From there, gunpowder's rise to prominence in world history is only too well known.
In what is perhaps one of the history of explosive's more poignant footnotes, dynamite was invented in 1867 by a man named Alfred Nobel. His name will be familiar via the world-famous Nobel peace prize which is given out in culmination of extraordinary careers and accomplishments in the name of human advancement and peaceful dealings. Intending that his invention should ease the lives of miners, and having patented his invention as a safe alternative to gunpowder, Nobel was understandably appalled and devastated to see his creation so naturally parlayed into an absolutely lethal implement of war. Fearing his name would forever be synonymous with destruction and killing, Nobel established the Nobel peace prize in order to propagate a more beneficent self-memorial.
Though explosives continue to find daily use in commercial demolition applications, quarrying and mining operations, they are better known and more widely used in combat. From ship-borne cannons to infantry rifles and grenades and roadside IED's to the atom bomb, man has leveraged knowledge and production of explosives over his enemies for millenia.