Christmas lights are an important part of holiday décor for many families, but most people are unaware of Christmas lights history.
The Beginnings of a Holiday Tradition
Christmas trees have always been lit, even before electricity was widely available. People would simply use tiny burning candles to add a festive glow to their Christmas trees. The candles were either attached with pins or adhered to the branches with melted wax. In the mid-1800s, however, people began to use candle holders to reduce some of the danger associated with the open flames. Small lanterns and glass balls to hold the candles became available shortly after, making the practice a bit safer still.
Christmas Lights History: A Brief Overview
The first Christmas lights that resembled what you see on trees today were first used in 1882. Edward Johnson, an associate of Thomas Edison, wound 80 red, white, and blue bulbs around his Christmas tree. The bulbs were hand wired together, much like how you would string beads on thread to make a necklace.
In 1895, President Grover Cleveland added electric Christmas lights to the tree in the White House. This important moment in Christmas lights history created widespread interest in a newer method of holiday decorating. Thomas Edison began offering hand-blown bulbs for Christmas trees through General Electric and many large businesses began using brightly lit trees as a strategy for attracting customers during the holiday shopping season. When the public saw these trees, they sometimes referred to the Christmas lights as either "fairy lights" or "twinkle lights."
In the early 1900s, it became fashionable for members of high society to throw Christmas tree lighting parties. These elaborate parties were planned for many months and cost a considerable amount of money. While the average worker only made 22 cents per hour at this time, the first Christmas lights cost $12 for a set of 24 lights. In addition, the process of attaching the individual lights to the tree required skills that most people did not possess. The services of a professional wireman were typically required before the party could begin.
In 1908, the first battery-operated Christmas tree lights became available after Ralph Morris came up with the idea of pulling the lights from an old telephone switchboard for use on a Christmas tree.
Christmas Tree Lights for the Masses
By most accounts, Albert Sadacca deserves credit for making Christmas tree lights widely available to the public. In 1917, after learning of a fire caused by a poor family who decorated their tree with lit candles because they couldn't afford modern Christmas lights, the 15-year old entrepreneur convinced his parents to use the bulbs from their business making novelty bird cage lights to create safe and affordable strings of Christmas lights. The idea got off to a slow start, but quickly picked up steam once they decided to paint the bulbs different colors instead of selling plain white lights.
Later, Albert Sadacca and his brothers Henri and Leon began NOMA Electric Company to manufacture and distribute Christmas lights. Until the 1960s, their company was the largest supplier of Christmas lights in the world.
Christmas Lights Today
Today, Christmas lights are available in prices and styles to fit almost any holiday decorating need. You can have elegant white lights, traditional multi-colored lights, or decorative strands in single colors such as blue and red. There are lights that blink, flicker, and appear to move in sync to music.
In addition to the lights that appear on Christmas trees, there are also holiday light sculptures available to decorate your home with snowmen, candy canes, Santa Claus, and other winter-related themes. In many communities, there are contests with large cash prizes for the homeowner who can create the most impressive Christmas lights history display.