In the years following the Civil War, Christmas trees continued to rise in popularity. Where Europeans favored trees they could sit atop a table, Americans preferred big, full floor-to-ceiling trees that ranged between 7 and 12 feet in height. And they decorated their trees with homemade ornaments, as it would be decades before store-bought varieties became commercially available. For color, people would encircle their trees with strings of garland consisting of nuts, berries, candies and brightly-colored kernels of dyed popcorn. But they still lighted them with candles … until Thomas Edison and his partner in the Edison Illuminating Company (the precursor to Con Edison) invented the electrical Christmas light.

In 1880, Thomas Edison and his muckers created several strands of electric light bulbs for use as  Christmas decorations. They hung them on the outside of his laboratory at Menlo Park, New Jersey, where passengers traveling on a nearby railroad had the privilege of glimpsing the first holiday electric light display in history. Two years later, Edison’s friend and partner in the Edison Illuminating Company, Edward Johnston, decided that the outdoor bulbs could also be used to light Christmas trees. So he wired together 80 red, white and blue bulbs and strung them around the Christmas tree in this home in New York City. Not only was the tree lit up, it revolved on a rotating base. Thanks to a story published by a Detroit newspaper reporter about Johnston’s rotating Christmas tree, he’s now regarded as the father of Christmas tree lights.

Over the next 20 or so years, businesses began using Christmas lights in window displays. But as electricity was just being installed in many places, the services of a wireman, the equivalent of a modern-day electrician, were necessary to wire the lights to an existing outlet. It wasn’t until 1903 that people were able to start using Christmas lights in their homes. In that year, General Electric began offering kits of electric Christmas lights to the public for the very first time. These lights included miniature GE/Edison carbon filament lamps with blue, green, red and white bulbs.

There’s more to this story, so keep visiting this blog. And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.