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Robert McNamara

The First Electric Christmas Tree Lights

By December 24, 2012

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Christmas trees became popular in the mid-1800s, but it wasn't until the 1880s that a friend and employee of Thomas Edison merged two crucial elements, the evergreen tree and electricity.

Edward H. Johnson, an Edison associate who lived in New York City, lit up his family's Christmas tree in 1882 and invited the press into his living room to view the spectacular effect.

The Johnson family's tree required considerable expertise to set up. And it also needed an Edison dynamo to light up its 120 bulbs.

It would be years before Christmas lights would be affordable. For the rest of the 19th century having electric lights on a Christmas tree meant hiring an experienced electrician to create a custom installation.

As candles were a constant fire danger at Christmastime, there was a need for a commonly available alternative. And small strings of lights anyone could use began to be marketed about 90 years ago. By the 1930s, 50 years after the Johnson family showed off the first electric Christmas tree, easy to use holiday lights had become commonplace.


Illustration: Christmas tree illuminated with candles/courtesy New York Public Library Digital Collections

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