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Christmas Tree Lights - 1880 - 1882 - 1917

Lights-NOMASomething we take for granted in our decorating is the traditional brightly colored or clear lights on the Christmas Tree. Of course, you know originally the tree was decorated with candles – quite a fire hazard. Plus because of the use of candles, a tree would be lit only just before Christmas and for a short time. It was Thomas Edison, the inventor of the first successful practical light bulb, who created the very first strand of electric lights. During the Christmas season of 1880, these strands were strung around the outside of his Menlo Park Laboratory. Railroad passengers traveling by the laboratory got their first look at an electrical light display.

It was Edward H. Johnson, a friend and partner of Edison, put the very first string of electric Christmas tree lights together in 1882. Johnson hand-wired 80 red, white and blue light bulbs and wound them around his Christmas tree. Not only was the tree illuminated with electricity, the tree also revolved.

The idea of using electric was still risky in the 1880s, with a great mistrust of electricity. It would be President Grover Cleveland who accepted the idea of indoor electric Christmas lights. In 1895, President Cleveland requested that the White House family Christmas tree be illuminated by hundreds of multi-colored electric light bulbs.

Lights-AD GEIt was not until 1903, that the General Electric Company (General Electric was formed through the 1892 merger of Thomas Edison General Electric Company of Schenectady, New York) began to offer pre-assembled kits of Christmas lights. Really the very wealthy could afford sure lights. Just the lights themselves cost $12 (equal to $80 today). They were hand-blown bulbs that needed to be wired together like beads on a string. The wiring of electric lights was very expensive and required the hiring of the services of a wireman (professional electrician). On an average to light a typical Christmas tree with electric lights around 1903 would have cost $2,000 in today’s money value.

Then there was Albert Sadacca in 1917 who saw a future in selling electric Christmas lights to families. Albert was a teenage boy whose family owned a novelty lighting company. He made the suggestion that its store offer brightly colored strands of Christmas lights to the public. They sold 100 stings of lights that year. By the 1920’s Albert and his brothers, Henri and Leon, organized the National Outfit Manufacturers Association (NOMA), a trade association. NOMA soon became NOMA Electric Co., with its members cornering the Christmas light market until the 1960’s.

Photos: NOMA – Sadacca Brothers’ Lights in 1927 and early General Electric Ad.

Related genealogy blog:

Christmas Gifts for Children in 1913


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