The General Electric Christmas lighting outfit, the first set offered for sale to the public. Circa 1903-1904.
The inventors of electric Christmas lights are Thomas Edison and Edward Johnson
Before electric Christmas lights, families would use candles to light up their Christmas trees. This practice was often dangerous and led to many home fires.
Edward H. Johnson put the very first string of electric Christmas tree lights together in 1882. Johnson, Edison’s friend and partner in the Edison’s Illumination Company, hand-wired 80 red, white and blue light bulbs and wound them around his Christmas tree. Not only was the tree illuminated with electricity, it also revolved.
During the Christmas season of 1880, strands of lights were strung around the outside of Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory. Railroad passengers traveling by got their first look at an electrical light display.
General Electric was the first company to offer pre-wired Christmas light strings. Prior to this, lights had to be hand wired on the tree. GE was unable to patent their string (or festoon), and suddenly the market was open to anyone who wanted to manufacture the strings.
Modern Christmas light decorating to the extreme
In 1895, U.S. President Grover Cleveland proudly sponsored the first electrically lit Christmas tree in the White House.
In 1901, The first commercially produced Christmas tree lamps were manufactured in strings of nine sockets by the Edison General Electric Co. of Harrison, New Jersey.
It was a common but incorrect belief in the early days of electric Christmas lighting that Christmas light bulbs would burn longer in an upright position. Early decorators spent a lot of time making sure that the lamps were positioned upright on the tree.
Many of the earliest figural light bulbs representing fruit, flowers and holiday figures were blown in molds that were also used to make small glass ornaments. These figural lights were painted by toy makers.
Many of the earliest Christmas lights burned so hot that they were about as dangerous as the candles they were advertised to replace.
Ink Blotter advertising General Electric's new pre-wired sets of Christmas lights. The artwork is a direct copy of General Electric's cover art for their 1904 booklet advertising their first set of Christmas lights.
Early in their history, Christmas lights were so expensive that they were more commonly rented than sold. An electrically lighted tree was a status symbol in the early 1900s.
Until 1903, when General Electric began to offer pre-assembled kits of Christmas lights, stringed lights were reserved for the wealthy and electrically savvy.
The wiring of electric lights was very expensive and required the hiring of the services of a wireman, our modern-day electrician. According to some, to light an average Christmas tree with electric lights before 1903 would have cost $2000.00 in today’s dollars.
Early NOMA Christmas light outfit
Albert Sadacca saw a future in selling electric Christmas lights. The Sadacca family owned a novelty lighting company and in 1917 Albert, a teenager at the time, suggested that its store offer brightly colored strands of Christmas lights to the public.
Christmas lights were first advertised in the Ladies Home Journal.
True outdoor Christmas lights were not introduced to the public until 1927-1928, almost 45 years after the first electric tree lights were demonstrated. There were sets offered for sale as safe to use outside before 1927, but they were small, dangerous and extremely impractical for the average family.
By the 1920’s Albert Sadacca and his brothers organized the National Outfit Manufacturers Association (NOMA), a trade association. NOMA soon became NOMA Electric Co., with its members cornering the Christmas light market until the 1960’s.
President Coolidge at the lighting of the first National Christmas Tree on December 24, 1923.
On Christmas Eve 1923, President Calvin Coolidge began the country’s celebration of Christmas by lighting the National Christmas Tree with 3,000 electric lights on the Ellipse located south of the White House.
Montgomery Wards inadvertently gave the American public two well known Christmas treasures: the bubble light and Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer. The original story of Rudolph, a bit different than the one we know today, first appeared in a children’s giveaway booklet in 1939. The character became a runaway hit. Also, Carl Otis, the inventor of the bubble light, worked as an accountant for the company. Wards did not sponsor Carl’s invention, and he eventually sold it to NOMA. It became the biggest selling Christmas light in history up to that time.
Electrically lit trees did not become “universal” in the United States until after World War II.
NOMA Bubble lights
Largest Cut Christmas Tree was a 221 foot Douglas fir at Northgate Shopping Center, Seattle, Washington, USA, in December 1950. (Guiness Book of World Records)
It is interesting to note that while Christmas is a uniquely Christian holiday, most of the major Christmas lighting companies were owned and operated by people of the Jewish faith.
Most reference books list Robert Allen Zimmerman’s birth date as May 24, 1941. But a passport issued to Robert Dylan in 1974 says his birth date is May 11, 1941.
Robert Allen Zimmerman received a D-plus in a music-appreciation class at the University of Minnesota.
Bob didn’t care to speak to other musicians, other than talking about stuff related to music and what they were recording or playing at the time. He would speak to people he knew, but wasn’t really interested in becoming “friends” with the musicians he met…apart from a few guys that became close to him like George Harrison.
In 1970 Dylan received an honorary doctorate of music from Princeton University.
Dylan’s reputation has long been larger than his record sales. His best-selling album is “Greatest Hits” (1967), which has been certified double-platinum, meaning it has sold between 2 million and 3 million copies. Runner-up is “Greatest Hits – Vol. II” (1971), a million-seller; Columbia Records doesn’t release sales figures, but a representative said “Vol. II” is nearing double-platinum. The next bestsellers are “Desire” (’76) and “Blood on the Tracks” (’75), both of which have achieved platinum status.
Bob had a rule that he only ever recorded music at night, he would show up to the studio around 9pm and work until the early hours of morning…always. Occasionally his band would record music pieces during the day and try to get Bob to listen to it, Bob would say “I don’t even wanna hear it if it was recorded during the day”
None of Dylan’s singles has ever reached No. 1 on Billboard’s pop chart. “Like a Rolling Stone” (1965) peaked at No. 2, as did “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” (’66).
The Byrds flew to No. 1 in ’65 with a version of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
“Blowin’ in the Wind” is the only Dylan tune to hit the Top 10 twice – in 1963 by Peter, Paul & Mary, when it carried to No. 2, and in ’66, when Stevie Wonder took it to No. 9.
Under his senior photo in the Hibbing High School yearbook, Zimmerman said he wanted “to join Little Richard.”
In the summer of 1959 Zimmerman played piano in Bobby Vee’s band – for two gigs.
Dylan’s harmonica is heard on records by Harry Belafonte, George Harrison, Steve Goodman, Roger McGuinn, Booker T. and Priscilla Jones, Doug Sahm, Carolyn Hester, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Sly & Robbie.
Among the pseudonyms Dylan has used when appearing on others’ records have been Blind Boy Grunt, Tedham Porterhouse, Robert Milkwood Thomas, Roosevelt Gook and Bob Landy.
The Minnesota Historical Society lists 97 Dylan items in its reference library. Included are a 1987 Ph.D. thesis by a Purdue University student, five fanzines, 17 books and articles published in Germany, one children’s book, and Dylan’s original, hand-written lyric sheet for “Temporary Like Achilles,” a 1966 song on “Blonde on Blonde.” The Historical Society bought it from a collector in 1988. The most interesting title in the society’s collection is “Mysteriously Saved: An Astrological Investigation into Bob Dylan’s Conversion to American Fundamentalism” by John Ledbury. Bob Spitz’s 1989 tome, “Dylan,” is the biggest item, at 639 pages.
Little Sandy Review, a mimeographed Twin Cities rag about folk music published in the late ’50s and early ’60s, was the first source to reveal that Zimmerman had invented Dylan. Little Sandy editor Paul Nelson later became a key editor at Rolling Stone.
Dylan adapted “Blowin’ in the Wind” from a spiritual, “No More Auction Block,” which is also known as “Many Thousands Gone.”
Dylan was scheduled to appear on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on May 12, 1963, with Irving Berlin, Al Hirt, Rip Taylor, Teresa Brewer, Myron Cohen and Topo Gigio, the Italian mouse. Dylan was going to sing “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues.” During the dress rehearsal, he was told that “John Birch” was deemed too controversial by network censors, and program producer Bob Precht, whose idea it was to invite Dylan on the show, asked him to sing another song. Dylan declined and did not appear.
“Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” was scheduled to be included on Dylan ‘s second album, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.” Columbia Records got paranoid, recalled the album and removed the song.
On June 7, 1969, Dylan sang “I Threw It All Away” and “Living the Blues” on Johnny Cash’s TV program. They sang a duet on “Girl from the North Country.”
Bob asked his music engineer to get him a 1966 Harley Davidson Shovelhead. Bobs engineer Mark Howard got him the bike and watched Bob ride away on it, but heard him stall the bike just around the corner and went to see if he needed any help. He found Dylan sitting on the bike staring straight ahead with 3 people hanging around the front of the bike asking for his autograph…Dylan just sat there like he did not even see them, he then proceeded to start the bike again and ride off without acknowledging the 3 fans. Bob liked to ride his bike with no helmet and told Howard that “The police are really friendly around here…they are all waving at me” Howard told him that they were waving at him because he had no helmet on and wanted him to stop!!
Dylan’s first major U.S. TV appearance was on “The Steve Allen Show” in early ’64.
In August 1969 Dylan made his first paid public performance since July 26, 1966, when he broke his neck in the crash of his Triumph 500 motorcycle. Backed by the Band, he performed in front of 200,000 people at England’s Isle of Wight festival. He was paid $75,000 for a 70-minute performance.
Dylan flew his parents, Abe and Beatty Zimmerman, to New York to see him perform at Carnegie Hall on Oct. 12, 1963.
Dylan married Sara Lownds in an impromptu private ceremony Nov. 22, 1965, in a judge’s chamber in Mineola, N.Y. Two days later the singer told an interviewer from the Chicago Daily News, “I don’t hope to be like anybody. Getting married, having a bunch of kids, I have no hopes for it.” Dylan’s marriage was not announced until February 1966.
Sara Dylan received custody of the couple’s four children in their 1977 divorce. A fifth child, Sara’s daughter Maria Dylan, is married to singer-songwriter Peter Himmelman, formerly of St. Louis Park.
When Dylan accepted his Grammy for “Lifetime Achievement” in February, he said, “Well, my daddy didn’t leave me too much . . . he was a very simple man.” He shifted anxiously. “But he did say, `Son . . . it’s possible to be so defiled in this world that your own mother and father will abandon you. And if this happens, God will always believe in your own ability to mend your ways.'”
Since around 1975 Bob has only ever included 10 or less songs on his albums (not including “best of” or “compilation” albums) regardless of whether or not he had more than 10 songs in the pipeline at the time. On his album “Oh Mercy” the producers tried to get Dylan to include an eleventh song “Series Of Dreams” Bob replied with “Y’know what..I only put 10 songs on my albums” the producers tried again, saying that the song was so great it simply had to go onto the album…Bob replied again “nah nah, I’m only puttin 10 songs on there”…end of story!!
Dylan won his first Grammy in 1980 for best rock vocal performance for the religious-oriented “Gotta Serve Somebody.” “Slow Train Coming,” the album on which the song appeared, was named best inspirational album at the Dove Awards, which recognize gospel recordings.
While attending the University of Minnesota in 1959 and ’60 Zimmerman lived at the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity house on University Av. and later above Gray’s Campus Drug in Dinkytown. He performed at the Ten O’Clock Scholar coffeehouse, where the Dinkytown Burger King now stands.
Whenever Bob was out and about he almost always wore a hoody, whether for anonymity or not, who knows. One day a drummer that was brought in to play with Bob’s band asked one of the engineers “Where the F**k is Bob Dylan” the engineer proceeded to say “he’s sitting right next to you” Bob just looked up in his hoodie, raised his eyebrows and continued writing lyrics!!
Dylan’s quasi-autobiographical 1977 movie, “Renaldo & Clara,” was three hours and 57 minutes long. He portrayed Renaldo, while musician Ronnie Hawkins played a character named Bob Dylan. The film included 47 songs.
After taking a shellacking from critics, the movie was edited to about 90 minutes.
Dylan’s first two movies were documentaries – “Don’t Look Back,” a look at his 1965 British tour, was released in ’67, but did not receive widespread distribution until ’75; “Eat This Document,” which was shot in ’66 for an ABC-TV special, was screened as a movie in ’71.
Dylan is the author of two books. “Tarantula,” which was rejected by Macmillan and Co. in 1965, was bootlegged in ’70 and officially published in ’71. “Writing and Drawings by Bob Dylan” was published in ’73; it features 187 song lyrics, 17 drawings, 26 poems and five pages of manuscript.
Dylan phoned critic Robert Shelton of the New York Times to invite Shelton to review his performance Sept. 26, 1961, at Gerde’s Folk City, opening for the Greenbriar Boys. It was considered audacious for an artist to ask a critic for a review – especially one from the Times. Dylan hoodwinked Shelton during an interview; among other things, Dylan said that when he was 13, he ran away and joined the circus and that he had recorded with Gene Vincent in Nashville, Tenn. Shelton’s rave review launched Dylan’s career.
In 1961, after rave reviews on the New York coffeehouse circuit, Dylan signed a three-year deal with Witmark & Sons to publish his songs. In three years Dylan wrote 237 songs for Witmark, including “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” “Masters of War,” “With God on Our Side,” “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “Only a Pawn in Their Game” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
Dylan was a contributing editor to “Broadside,” the folk-music magazine.
Judson Manning, the Time magazine correspondent belittled in “Ballad of a Thin Man” (“Because something is happening here/But you don’t know what it is/ Do you, Mr. Jones?”), interviewed not only Dylan, but also Adolf Hitler.
Three Dylan songs begin with nearly the same line, “Early in the mornin’. . . .” The songs are “Obviously Five Believers,” “Pledging My Time” and “Tangled Up in Blue” (which actually starts “Early one mornin’ . . . “).
Although they never received credit on the liner notes (which had already been printed), a handful of Minnesota musicians appeared on a few tunes on “Blood on the Tracks” that were rerecorded at Sound 80 in Minneapolis in December 1974. The players included drummer Bill Berg, bassist Billy Peterson, fiddler-mandolinist Peter Ostroushko, keyboardist Gregg Inhofer and guitarists Kevin Odegard and Chris Weber.
Dylan introduced the Beatles to marijuana in August 1964 at the Delmonico Hotel in New York.
Columbia Records hired Bob Johnston to produce Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” sessions in Nashville as a reward for having returned Patti Page, a Columbia stalwart, to the charts with “Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte.”
Louis Kemp, Dylan’s childhood friend, was hired as a staff member on Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975. He now runs Louis Kemp Seafood Co.
In 1967, while recuperating from his motorcycle accident in Woodstock, N.Y., Dylan signed with MGM Records, home of the Righteous Brothers, the Lovin’ Spoonful, Connie Francis and the late Hank Williams. MGM withdrew the contract on a technicality, and Dylan signed with Columbia.
When Dylan was wooed to Asylum Records in 1973, Columbia put out “Dylan ” to spite him. The album of outtakes includes versions of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” and Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr. Bojangles.”
After seeing Tiny Tim perform Dylan’s “Positively Fourth Street” in California, Dylan summoned the fey singer to Woodstock in 1967. For Dylan, Tiny Tim did an impression of Rudy Vallee singing “Like a Rolling Stone” and an impression of Dylan singing Vallee’s “There’s No Time Like Your Time.”
Bob always carried around a rolled-up bundle of paper with lyrics that he was working on, it was always written in pencil, and he was totally fanatical about his words. Bob would even be writing down new lyrics during recording sessions…adding, deleting and taking out words. He would have a piece of paper with thousands of lyrics written down, most of which was mainly illegible to other readers, words going upside down, sideways and all over the page. His crew hardly ever seen him eat, but he was always drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and hacking away at his lyrics. Dylan told his pianist he had been working on some of his songs for five or six years, trying to get them the way he wanted them…perfect!!
Among the duets Dylan has recorded for other artists’ albums are “Buckets of Rain” with Bette Midler, “Sign Language” with Eric Clapton and “Don’t Go Home with Your Hard-on” with Leonard Cohen.
The first time Dylan plugged in and played electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, he was accompanied by members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Later that summer, at Forest Hills Stadium, Dylan rocked with, among others, two members of the Band, Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm.
The Zimmerman family home at 2524 7th Av. E. in Hibbing was sold in August 1990 for $50,000. It had been on the market for about nine months. Its previous owner, who reportedly bought it from the Zimmerman family, sold many items to a Dylan collector.
Imprisoned boxer Ruben (Hurricane) Carter wasn’t the only prizefighter about whom Dylan sang. In 1963 Davey Moore was knocked out by Sugar Ramos and died two days later; 18 days later Dylan began singing “Who Killed Davey Moore?” The tune never appeared on record until this year’s “Bootleg Series.” Meanwhile, “Hurricane,” about the boxer who was jailed on murder charges and later exonerated, was a modest hit in ’76.
Hundreds of singers have recorded Dylan tunes. Otis Redding recorded “Just Like a Woman,” but decided not to release his version because he couldn’t get past the line, “with her fog, her amphetamine and her pearls.”
Dylan and John Lennon once wrote and recorded a song together while Dylan was on tour in England. “I don’t remember what it was, though,” Dylan said. “We played some stuff into a tape recorder, but I don’t know what happened to it. I don’t remember anything about the song.”
Bob never ever played the same song exactly the same. Whether he was just jamming, or recording, he would play the song in a different key, using different phrasing, or a different tempo…..this would often totally confuse other musicians in his band. Bob Dylan hated to repeat himself…ever!!
Since moving from Minneapolis to New York in 1960, Dylan has performed only five times in the Twin Cities – 1965 (at the Minneapolis Auditorium), ’78 (St. Paul Civic Center), ’86 (Metrodome), ’89 (RiverFest at Harriet Island) and ’90 (Minnesota State Fair).
“Bob Dylan,” his first album, was recorded in a few hours at a cost of $402. Initially it sold 5,000 copies. Since then more than 35 million Dylan records have been sold.
Dylan was the first big-name rock figure from the ’60s to turn 50 as of May, 1991.
There has never been an official video made by Bob Dylan for “Like a Rolling Stone”, although there is currently a contest on YouTube for fans to make one.
I am a recovering engineer and rocket scientist turned project manager turned management consultant turned publisher. I have always been a purveyor and proponent of education, expertise, erudition and enlightenment, and someday I will figure out what I want to be when I grow up.