A Brief History of Electric Christmas Tree Lights

Before light bulbs, Christmas trees were aglow with soft candlelight. The tradition started in the 18th century in Germany. It wasn’t all that common as it was both expensive and dangerous. However, in 1809, candle holders began to be used to hold the lights to the branches and between 1902 and 1914, small lanterns and glass balls were employed in their stead. Read on to learn more about how Christmas tree lights came to be a staple decoration.

A Brief History

During the 1880s, electric Christmas lights were first introduced. In 1881, the Savoy in London was the first building in the world to be lit by electric string lights. Sir Joseph Swan (inventor of the incandescent light bulb) supplied 1,200 Swan lamps for the Savoy owner. These were, and still are, known as fairy lights.

The first tree to ever be decked out in lights didn’t come until a year later, in 1882. Edward H. Johnson had Christmas tree lights made especially for the tree in his Fifth Avenue apartment. Hand-wired with 80 walnut-sized electric iridescent bulbs of red, white, and blue. These lights were seen as a publicity stunt by the media in New York City. By 1900, many stores and wealthy Americans stretched Christmas lights on their family firs and window-front evergreens.

In 1895, Grover Cleveland was proud to sponsor the first electrically lit Christmas tree in the White House, complete with over 100 multi-colored bulbs manufactured by General Electric. Still too expensive for the average person, it wasn’t until 1930 that electric Christmas lights overtook candles for the majority of the public.

Where We Are Now

Over time, the lights have found their way to places higher than indoor treetops. McAdneville, North Carolina claims to have been the first in 1956 to take lights outdoors when they began decorating trees around the city’s community center. McAdneville is known to some as “Christmas Town USA” and continues to decorate the town for Christmas lovers to come enjoy. (However, Rockefeller Center had lights on their tree since 1931, though they weren’t electric until 1956).

Nowadays, they don’t even have to touch a tree. The lit strings are often put up around doorways, rooftops, rafters, and railings, but not just for Yuletide festivities. Christmas lights are often used for other holidays including Halloween, Easter, and the Fourth of July. There are also those who use Christmas lights to illuminate their homes all year long, sometimes tastefully, sometimes not quite so much.

No matter how they’re used, these lights have become a staple in holiday decor around the world. Making cold nights warm, merry, and bright, further augmenting the spirit of Christmas for all who bear witness to them.

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