Fun Facts About Christmas Lights
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.
Special thanks to tackylighttour.com, loc.gov and oldchristmastreelights.com
The Brooklyn Bridge - an iconic landmark in human ingenuity
Fun Facts About the Brooklyn Bridge
- In 1802, NY State Legislature received petition to construct a bridge over the East River as an alternative to the many ferry services that operated at the time, including the Nassau, part of the Fulton Ferry Line (named after Robert Fulton).
- The construction of the Brooklyn Bridge started in 1869 and took 14 years to complete.
- In 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant, signed the bill to approve the Brooklyn Bridge Plan.
- The Organization chartered to build the Brooklyn Bridge was named The New York Bridge Company.
- At the time many saw the construction of such a large bridge as a folly.
Wilhelm Hildenbrand and John Augustus Roebling
- The driving force behind the whole project, John Augustus Roebling, was a German immigrant who had worked for the Prussian government as a bridge and road builder. He launched the idea of building a bridge across the East River after he had taken a ferry across the river that ended up stuck in the ice.
- Assisting Roebling with the bridge design was architect Wilhelm Hildenbrand.
- Roebling would never get to see the bridge he had designed: on July 6th, 1869, at the Brooklyn Fulton Ferry Slip, his foot was crushed while determining the exact location of the Brooklyn-side bridge tower. Although his toes were amputated, he would die 16 days later from Lockjaw (an infection) at the age of 63.
- Roebling wasn’t the only one to lose his life during the construction: 20 of the in total 600 workers died while working on the bridge.
- The son of John Roebling, Washington Roebling, took over the leadership of the project but he suffered from the caisson-disease as a result of the works on the pillars of the bridge and was on his deathbed during the inauguration.
- On opening day, May 24, 1883, about 150,000 people crossed the bridge.
- The opening day ceremony was presided over by President Chester A. Arthur and Governor Grover Cleveland.
- Roebling had not just made a bridge that looked incredibly strong, it also turned out to be just as strong in reality. A mesh of cables of which the four strongest have a diameter of 11 inches are anchored in the ground and keep the bridge from collapsing. But even if the four strongest cables would snap, the other cables would still be sufficient to support the bridge. Roebling even claimed that the bridge wouldn’t collapse without any cables, it would merely sag.
- But even after the inauguration, many New Yorkers were not convinced the bridge was safe. So as to prove the doubters wrong, P.T. Barnum led a caravan of circus animals – including a herd of 21 elephants – across the bridge in 1884.
- Initial Bridge Toll – 1 cent on Opening Day; 3 cents thereafter
- The Brooklyn Bridge ranks as one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century and remains one of New York’s most popular and well known landmarks.
- The impressive bridge spans the East river between Brooklyn and Manhattan and stretches for a length of 5989 ft, about 1.8 km. The length between the large towers is 1595.5 ft (486 meter). This made the Brooklyn bridge the world’s largest suspension bridge at the time.
- The most noticeable feature of the Brooklyn Bridge are the two masonry towers to which the many cables are attached. The towers with large gothic arches are 276 ft tall (84 meter), at the time making them some of the tallest landmarks in New York.
- Roebling claimed that the monumental towers would make the bridge a historic monument. He was proven right when the bridge officially became a national monument in 1964.
- An elevated pedestrian path not only gives you the opportunity to cross the river without being bothered by the traffic that rushes past a level below, but it also offers a great view of the bridge’s towers as well as downtown Manhattan’s skyline. The views alone attract millions of visitors to this bridge each year.
- Brooklyn, founded by Dutch settlers in 1636, was an independent city until 1898 when Brooklyn decided in a close vote to become a borough of New York. At that time the Brooklyn bridge had connected the two cities for 15 years.