History of Christmas Lights

Posted on:December 16, 2015 8:13 am CST

We all know that Thomas Edison is credited with inventing the light bulb, but did you know he is also closely connected to the invention of the first Christmas lights?

Just one year after inventing the incandescent light bulb, Edison created the first strands of electric lights and put them up outside his Menlo Park Laboratory during the 1880 Christmas season. But it was Edison's friend and business partner Edward H. Johnson, who would create the first Christmas tree lights. Two years later, in 1882, Johnson hand-wired a strand of 80 red, white and blue light bulbs and wound them around his Christmas tree!

History of Christmas Lights

The idea of using electric lights as Christmas decorations didn't catch on right away. At that time, there was still a lot of mistrust of electricity, and many chose to keep decorating their Christmas trees with candles (not exactly safe either, right?). In fact, it would be 13 more years before people began to see the light on Johnson's festive creation.

In 1895, President Grover Cleveland had the White House family Christmas tree illuminated with more than a hundred multi-colored Edison bulbs. That is when the public first started taking notice of the idea. It started with the wealthy, who would pay upwards of $300 ($2,000 in today's money) to host lavish Christmas tree lighting parties. That cost covered the lights, wires, sockets, generator, etc…and an electrician to assemble everything.

Then in 1903, General Electric Company began selling pre-assembled electric Christmas light kits. The kits consisted of a pre-wired strand of eight porcelain sockets, eight Edison colored glass lamps, and a screw-in plug for attaching to nearby wall or ceiling light sockets. The kits sold for $12 each, which was equal to the total weekly wages of the average worker at that time. Still very expensive!

Johnson may be credited with inventing Christmas tree lights, but it was a man named Albert Sadacca who is known for popularizing the idea. After a tragic fire in New York City in 1917, a teenaged Albert got the idea to sell brightly colored strands of lights at his family's novelty lighting shop. As the idea caught on, Albert and his brothers formed a trade association called NOMA, which cornered the Christmas light market until the 1960's.

Both NECA and the Library of Congress have some very interesting and more detailed articles about the history of Christmas lights, and how they influenced modern electrical lighting.

AND…just for fun…since the release of the newest Star Wars movie is just days away, here are some pretty awesome Christmas light displays sure to get you in the spirit!