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History of Christmas Lights

Updated on October 13, 2014

European Table Top Tree

Before Electric Light

The Christmas tree is a relative late comer to Christmas traditions. The First American Christmas Tree was probably erected sometime around the Revolutionary War. Hessian soldiers, who were German mercenaries fighting for the British, bought the custom to America. After the fighting was over many of these soldiers stayed in the United States and the custom slowy started to spread.

1870's Engraving

1902 Illustration

Tabletop Trees

But Christmas trees were not really well known until the next century. In Europe the trees were becoming rather common, but these were just small table top trees.

However in the United States, the large native forests could produce full size trees, so the miniature ones we're not as popular. In cities table top trees were somewhat common but in the western part of the country American families has Christmas trees they were full size with more room for decorations and perhaps candles.

Victorian full size trees but still on tabletop

1900 Christmas Card

Christmas Candles

Dangers of Candles

But candles weren't necessarily that common. A good size tree would need dozens, that would be placed in special holders that could be clamped onto branches. This was expensive and rather dangerous. A fire could easily break out on a Christmas tree and someone had to be watching the tree at all times. They would typically be holding a wet sponge at the ready to douse any small fires before they could spread.

Early box for Electric Christmas Lights

Timeline for Creation of Christmas Lights

  • 1882 First electically lighted tree erected at Edward Johnson's house in New York City. Johnson worked for the Edison Electric Company.
  • 1890'S General Elecrric bought out Edison Electric Company and started to sell Christmas tree lights. The clear individual bulbs looked like smaller versions of standard electrical bulbs of the time, which has a pointed tip. The bulbs were not simple to use and needs a trained electrician to install.
  • 1903 Every-Ready started to sell the first strings of Christmas tree lights that were relatively affordable and did not require a professional to install.There were still large and shaped like contemporary electrical lights.
  • 1907 Ever-Ready started selling, for the first time, strings of 8 bulb that could be joined together to make larger strands.
  • 1909 In Vienna the first miniature lights were created that were not shaped like regular elecrtrical lights. They were in small figures of animals, flowers and fruit. None of the bulbs yet had typical Christmas designs.
  • 1910 General Electric changed the shape of their bulbs to a round design and for the first time, color was added to the outside of the bubs.


  • 1927 General Electric changed toe wiring of the light strings so that the entire string would no londer stop working if 1 bulb burned out.
  • 1945 Bubble lights were launched and millions were sold in the 195o's. The bubbles created a moving deocration through the use of plastic tubes filled with Methylene Chloride, which boiled as the light heated up.
  • 1970'S In this decord twinkling lights hit the market, they soon became toe most popular Christmas tree lights.

History Channel

Norman Rockwell Illustration Saturday Evening Post

Outdoor Lighting

The historical timeline for the use of Christmas lights outside is no so clear cut. San Diego has made the claim for the earliest lights, in 1904. But other places also have historical evidence.

Macadenville, North Carolina has the most compelling and generally accepted claim. They started decorating outdoor trees in 1956. The tree at Rockefeller Center does date back to the 1930's, but these were not strings of lights, so that tree is not considered the first.

Whoever started the custom, the tradtion keeps getting more and more common. Many houses compete to see which can have the more elaborate displays of lights and deocrations, like the house below.


Christmas Lights Video



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    • profile image

      scout901 5 years ago

      I fixed the upper case and added some more information, hope you enjoy.

    • SEXYLADYDEE profile image

      SEXYLADYDEE 7 years ago from Upstate NY

      Thank you this was very informative. Didn't like the all upper case but my partner did because he didn't need his reading glasses to read it.