Saturday, July 27, 2013

Electric Christmas Lights for The Christmas Tree

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
stand with their children around
a Christmas tree lit with candles.
Lighting The Christmas Tree in England

      The Christmas tree was adopted in upper-class homes in 18th-century Germany, where it was occasionally decorated with candles, which at the time was a comparatively expensive light source. Candles for the tree were glued with melted wax to a tree branch or attached by pins. Around 1890, candle holders were first used for Christmas candles. Between 1902 and 1914, small lanterns and glass balls to hold the candles started to be used. Early electric Christmas lights were introduced with electrification, beginning in the 1880s.
      The illuminated Christmas tree became established in the United Kingdom during Queen Victoria's reign, and through emigration spread to North America and Australia. In her journal for Christmas Eve 1832, the delighted 13-year-old princess wrote, "After dinner.. we then went into the drawing-room near the dining-room. There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed round the trees". Until the availability of inexpensive electrical power in the early twentieth century, miniature candles were commonly (and in some cultures still are) used.
      In the United Kingdom, electrically powered Christmas lights are generally known as fairy lights. In 1881, the Savoy Theater, London was the first building in the world to be lit entirely by electricity. Sir Joseph Swan, inventor of the incandescent light bulb, supplied about 1,200 Swan incandescent lamps, and a year later, the Savoy owner Richard D'Oyly Carte equipped the principal fairies with miniature lighting supplied by the Swan United Electric Lamp Company, for the opening night of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera Iolanthe on 25 November 1882. The term fairy lights for a string of electrically powered Christmas lights has been in common usage in the UK ever since.
Real candles lighted on a Christmas tree, 1900.

Lighting The Christmas Tree in America

      Edward Hibberd Johnson was an inventor and business associate of American inventor Thomas Alva Edison. He was involved in many of Edison's projects, and was a partner in an early organization which evolved into the General Electric Company, one of the largest Fortune 500 companies in the United States. When Johnson was Vice President of the Edison Electric Light Company, a predecessor of Con Edison, he created the first known electrically illuminated Christmas tree at his home in New York City in 1882. Edward H. Johnson became the Father of Electric Christmas Tree Lights i.e., strand lights.
      The first known electrically illuminated Christmas tree was the creation of Edward H. Johnson. While he was Vice-President of the Edison Electric Light Company, he had Christmas tree bulbs especially made for him. He proudly displayed his Christmas tree — hand-wired with 80 red, white, and blue electric light bulbs the size of walnuts — on December 22, 1882, at his home in New York City. The story was reported in the Detroit Post and Tribune by a reporter named Croffut. Croffut wrote "Last evening I walked over beyond Fifth Avenue and called at the residence of Edward H. Johnson, vice-president of Edison’s electric company". Although Johnson's address at that time is not known, he lived in one of the first areas of New York City wired for electric service. Edward H. Johnson became known as the Father of Electric Christmas Tree Lights. By 1900, businesses started stringing up Christmas lights behind their windows. Christmas lights were too expensive for the average person; as such, electric Christmas lights did not become the majority replacement for candles until 1930.
American President, Calvin Coolidge
Lights the first White House Christmas
Tree in 1923. Lighting for trees at that
time was very expensive.
      From that point on, electrically illuminated Christmas trees, indoors and outdoors, grew with mounting enthusiasm in the United States and elsewhere. In 1895, U.S. President Grover Cleveland proudly sponsored the first electrically lit Christmas tree in the White House. It was a huge specimen, featuring more than a hundred multicolored lights. The first commercially produced Christmas tree lamps were manufactured in strings of nine sockets by the Edison General Electric Company of Harrison, New Jersey and advertised in the December 1901 issue of the Ladies' Home Journal. Each socket took a miniature two-candela carbon-filament lamp.    
      Albert Sadacca  is credited with popularizing electric Christmas tree lights for ordinary, private use. According to the legend, in 1917, at the age of 15, after a fire in New York City started by candles suspended in a tree, Sadacca adapted the novelty lighting that his parents sold for use in Christmas trees. A similar story is told about Ralph E. Morris, who created an electric light set using a telephone switchboard in 1908. Earlier electric Christmas tree lights had been used in 1885 in Grover Cleveland's White House, and in 1882 at the home of Edward H. Johnson, a vice-president of the Edison Electric Light Company.
      Other sources indicate that Albert and his brothers, Henri and Leon, founded their business in 1914 (three years before the fire, when Albert would presumably have been only 12 years old). Nevertheless, in 1925, Sadacca's company, enjoying success in the new Christmas light business, proposed that several companies then competing for the market join together as a trade organization. The name of the organization was The National Outfit Manufacturer's Association. The association merged into a single company the following year, and began several decades of dominance in the rapidly growing Christmas lighting market as the NOMA Electric Company.


       Above, Edison's Menlo Park Laboratory, reconstructed at Greenfield Village at HenryFord Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Edison did not invent the first electric light bulb, although many Americans believe that he did, but instead he invented the first commercially practical incandescent light. After many experiments with platinum and other metal filaments, Edison returned to a carbon filament. The first successful test was on October 22, 1879; it lasted 13.5 hours. Edison continued to improve this design and by November 4, 1879, filed for U.S. patent 223,898 (granted on January 27, 1880) for an electric lamp using "a carbon filament or strip coiled and connected to platina contact wires".

 
 Interview with Noma Lites Managing Director Clive Capel at Harrogate 201. View multiple vintage ads for NOMA Lites here.

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