From Candles to Electricity: The Origin of Christmas Lights

Christmas Lights

Christmas Lights in MinnesotaLong before the streets lined bright Christmas lights of different colors, people literally lit the trees in their homes with candles. This festive albeit dangerous practice, has changed over several decades as electric-powered lights became popular

18th Century

Imagine attempting to attach several candles on a Christmas tree to celebrate the holiday season. Think of the hours you would spend just trying not to burn it or the house down. That was what people used to do whenever the season came around. Homeowners had to keep sand or a bucket of water nearby to maintain their festive mood. Despite the danger of mixing drying trees and candles, this would remain a holiday staple until the commercial and affordable use of electric lights.

Edward H. Johnson

You probably know who Thomas Edison is, but do you know who Edward H. Johnson is? The latter is the vice president of Edison’s Electric Light Company. He used customized red, white and blue light bulbs to decorate his Christmas tree that he displayed by the window of his house. Edward Johnson did not catch the attention of the local press, but did garner a mention in a newspaper in Detroit.

In 1895, people still did not trust electric-powered lights as a safer option over candles, but that notion later changed when then President Grover Cleveland displayed the first electrically lit tree in the White House. It had over 100 bulbs in various colors. This captured the American public’s attention. Brightly lit Christmas trees became popular, as long as someone could afford it; the cost of doing so carried a $300 price tag.

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Commercial Use in 1917-1920

Commercial Chrismas light companies, like RoofToDeckDecoration.com, says 1917 was the year when this decoration hit the mainstream. A teen named Albert Sadacca repurposed the novelty bulbs his family made by switching them with colored lights. This was the first commercial, safe and affordable Christmas lights.

In 1920, with technology advances and sub-par lights fading, more and more middle class families used Christmas lights to decorate their houses just in time for the holiday season.

Decades have passed and people still use Christmas lights to usher in the festive season. These brighten up homes and spread the holiday cheer throughout the neighborhood.