The Tradition of Hanging of Christmas Lights



As with any tradition, it generally followed year after year. Christmas many traditions have been done by towns, states, nations and families.

So how did the tradition of hanging Christmas lights start in America? In late 1880, Thomas Edison was getting ready to secure a patent for the new light bulb and he decided to light up his new invention outside of his lab in Menlo Park. He did it to get people in the holiday spirit and to introduce the light bulb to anyone who was watching. It was Edward H. Johnson, his associate, in a couple of years that was taken by the gesture and took the opportunity to expand the idea.

Johnson started stringing together Edison’s light bulbs in 1882 for use on Christmas trees. Those lights were red, white, and blue and each string had 80 electric bulbs placed on the Christmas tree at the window in the parlor in a townhouse at 136 East 36th Street in NYC. The lights drew a crowd who loved the idea. By 1884 Johnson placed 120 bulbs on the tree. People had used actual lit candles on their Christmas trees, truly a danger.

At the White House Christmas tree they started with electric Christmas lights in 1895 and they were turned on by President Grover Cleveland. The first sets of sting lights were too expensive, about $12 for 16 lights, for the majority of people to afford. By 1900 major department stores started using the Christmas light in their store and on trees decorated in the store.

People didn’t switch to the new electric light bulbs for their tree until about 1914 when the price finally hit a level, about $1.75 for a 16-foot string, that made people swap out their Christmas tree candles for a much safer alternative.

The style of the electric light varied over the years. Safety concerns brought about the formation of national standards for “decorative” lighting, which were overseen by the infant Underwriters Laboratories. By 1930, most homes were using the now-standard two-bladed wall plugs, making decorating with electricity all the more convenient. The NOMA Electric Corporation, which was shortly to become the largest manufacturer of Christmas lighting in the world, was formed during the late 20s, changing forever the decorative lighting industry.

In the 1950s a popular style of Christmas tree lights was called ‘flying saucer or bubble lights,’ first introduced in 1946. Some early ones had what looked like a flying saucer at its base and from there the tube where light and bubbles appeared. There was a big interest in anything related to outer space. By the 1960s, the base changed from a saucer to a cone style but still had the tube for the light and bubbles to appear. This style remained popular until the 1970s. Most popular over the years has been the light bulbs, each a different color light.

Placing Christmas lights and decorations outside around a person’s home began in the 1950s and grew over the decades.

By the 1970s mini-Christmas lights were brought to the market and people loved them.

Do you have any family vintage Christmas tree lights?

Photo: The Bubbles Christmas Tree light.

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

A Family’s Hometown Christmas Traditions

Favorite Toys at Christmas in the early 20th Century

Christmas Day Photos

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