One would think that Christmas lights have been around for as long as Christmas itself. Can any of you imagine Christmas without lights? How would the children find their way in the dark, so early on Christmas morning without them? The history of Christmas lights is intricately tied to the dawn of the modern era, when houses began to be supplied with electricity.
As you are likely aware, Thomas Edison invented the first functioning light bulb back in 1879. A few years later, in 1882, an associate of his first employed the use of lights on his Christmas tree. Edward Johnson was the first to electrically light his family Christmas tree in his New York home. His home was located in one of the first sections of the city to be wired for electricity.
A visiting reporter from Detroit reported the following in “The Detroit Post and Tribune”: “Last evening I walked over beyond Fifth Avenue and called at the residence of Edward H. Johnson, vice-president of Edison’s electric company. There, at the rear of the beautiful parlors, was a large Christmas tree presenting a most picturesque and uncanny aspect. It was brilliantly lighted with many colored globes about as large as an English walnut and was turning some six times a minute on a little pine box. There were eighty lights in all encased in these dainty glass eggs, and about equally divided between white, red and blue. As the tree turned and the colors alternated, all the lamps going out and being relit at every revolution. The result was a continuous twinkling of dancing colors, red, white, blue, white, red, blue—all evening.”
In 1890, Edison published a promotional brochure which may have been the first mention of commercially available electrically powered Christmas lights. It stated that “There are few forms of decoration more beautiful and pleasing than miniature incandescent lamps placed among flowers, or interwoven in garlands or festoons; for decorating Christmas trees or conservatories…”
From there, the popularity of Christmas lights exploded. Before long, every family had them and they became synonymous with the Christmas tree. It’s hard to imagine Christmas without Christmas lights. I tip my fuzzy red cap to you, Mr. Edison. You have given us all a gift we will always cherish!