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The History of Christmas Lights

History of Christmas Lights

Christmas Lights represent the glory and beauty of the stars that twinkled in the sky over Bethlehem on the night Christ was born.  In many countries candles symbolize the same idea.


For example, in Ireland a candle is left burning in a window on Christmas Eve to light the way for the Christ child.  In the United States, many churches hold a candlelight mass on Christmas Eve.  In other countries, lanterns or candles are carried in celebration ceremonies.


The custom of placing Lights on an evergreen tree can be traced back to the middle of the seventeenth century when small candles were attached to the ends of tree branches with wax or pins.  Because of the risk of fire, trees were displayed only on December 24th.  But as electricity grew in popularity and availability, families began to enjoy their lighted trees for a longer period of time during the holidays.


Electrically-lighted trees came to America in 1882 when an associate of Thomas Edison hand-wired 80 bulbs together and wrapped the string around a rotating evergreen tree.


As part of the White House Christmas celebration of 1895, President Grover Cleveland erected a lighted tree.  As the public took notice and followed the President's lead, the tradition was born.


As the 19th century came to an end, General Electric was offering hand-blown bulbs that could be wired together by hired "wiremen" (electricians) to create a string of holiday lights.


By 1900, some of the more prosperous commercial stores started to use large illuminated trees to attract customers.  Grand events featuring lighted Christmas trees were hosted by high society since only the rich could afford the exorbitant cost that included the services of a "wireman" plus a generator to provide the electricity.


The first practical string of Christmas lights was developed by The American Eveready Company in 1903.  It offered the typical homeowner easy screw-in bulbs and a plug for the wall socket.


Fifteen-year-old Albert Sadacca was inspired in 1917 after a tragic fire in New York was caused by the ongoing practice of using candles to light highly-flammable trees.  Since his family owned a novelty shop that sold wicker cages with "light up" imitation birds, making strings of Christmas lights would be an easy transition.


Albert's parents thought it was a good idea, but only 100 strings sold the first year.  Then Albert thought of painting the bulbs red, green and other colors instead of using plain glass...the business began to prosper.


As the light strings grew in popularity, Albert and his two brothers, Henri and Leon, started the NOMA Electric Company which soon became the largest Christmas lighting company in the world.  Albert sat as the head of this multi-million dollar company until 1965.


Every year millions of Christmas light strings are sold and displayed in homes that take the miraculous glow of light for granted.  Few of us pause to consider the long path taken on the road of invention by pioneers who have given us a wonderful tradition.





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