Who Invented Holiday Lighting?

Who Invented Holiday Lighting?

Who Invented Holiday Lighting?

Today, dazzling electric light displays illuminate the holiday season across the country, but this was not always so. Before electric lighting, families used candles to light trees. Even after the invention of electric lighting, it took decades before colorful holiday lights became common in U.S. households. 

Holiday lighting: the early years 

Although the tradition of using decorative and ceremonial lighting during the holiday season goes back centuries, the practice of lighting trees with candles began in Germany in the 17th century, eventually spreading throughout Europe and America.

Candle-lit trees caused many problems; one of them was keeping the candles from falling off the tree. People devised many solutions, including wiring the candles to the tree and using melted wax as an adhesive.

Candles were only lit for a short period and monitored closely. A bucket of water was kept nearby in case of fire. Despite these safety measures, the practice of lighting trees with candles was dangerous and led to an increasing number of house fires. 

The advent of electric lights 

Thomas Edison, inventor of the first practical light bulb, also created the first strand of electric lights. These strands were strung around his Menlo Park laboratory during the holiday season in 1880. In 1882, Edward Johnson, an associate of Edison, hand-wired 80 red, white and blue lights and strung them around the tree in his home. The lights blinked on and off as a motor spun the tree around.

Despite these early efforts, it would be decades before electric holiday lights became commonplace. Holiday lights were only available to the wealthy. Lights had to be wired individually and were not practical for the average homeowner. In 1900, a single strand of lights cost $12, which would cost nearly $300 today!

Still, public fascination with electric holiday lights continued to grow, and retailers began using them in store window displays; a practice that continues today. In 1895, President Grover Cleveland ordered the White House tree be decorated with electric lights.

Electric holiday lighting comes home

As lighting technology improved, costs came down. In the early decades of the 20th century, holiday lighting became more commonplace. In 1903, the General Electric Co. began offering pre-assembled holiday lighting kits. By the 1920s, other companies were offering safe and affordable tree lights and the tradition of decorating homes with electric lights took off.

Today, most holiday lights use incandescent bulbs, similar to the ones used by Edison over a century ago, but light-emitting diode (LED) holiday lights are gaining in popularity. LEDs are highly efficient, last longer, and they are cool to the touch, making them safer to use. 

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