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Christmas Lights: Illuminating the Cold Winter Night Since 1880

Fun Facts About Christmas Lights

  • The General Electric Christmas lighting outfit, the first set offered for sale to the public. Circa 1903-1904.

    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

    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.

    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

    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.

    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

    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

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The Ferris Wheel: Engineering Marvel Turned Amusement Park Attraction

Ferris Wheel
Modern-day Ferris Wheel

Fun Facts About the Ferris Wheel

  • The Ferris Wheel debuted on June 21, 1893 for the Chicago World’s Fair and was invented by George Washington Gale Ferris, a bridge builder.

    George W.G. Ferris

    George W.G. Ferris

  • In 1890, Congress decided to celebrate the discovery of America by Columbus by hosting the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The director of the corporation in charge of the event was given the task of coming up with something to be the icon of the event, as the Eiffel Tower was to the 1889 Paris Exposition.
  • The director presented the problem at an Engineer’s Banquet in 1891, and Ferris presented the solution sketched on a cocktail napkin – a giant revolving wheel that people could ride in.
  • A structure of this size and shape had not yet been built, which meant that the science behind it had never been tested. In fact, the Saturday Afternoon Club, a group of engineers and architects of the time, called Ferris a fool and proclaimed that he would never be able to build the giant wheel. He obtained permission in spite of this and began building.
  • The first Ferris Wheel was 264 feet high. The wheel spun on an 89,320-pound axle, which was forged in Pittsburgh. The 45 ½-foot axel carried two 16-foot cast-iron spiders that turned the machine.
  • It was turned with a 1000 hp reversible engine using ten-inch steam pipes. A second engine stood in reserve in case the first broke. An air brake stopped the contraption when needed.
  • The original Ferris WheelOnce the device had performed one complete revolution on June 9, 1893, the cars were hung.

    Ferris' wheel at the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1892

    The original Ferris Wheel

  • The original Ferris wheel could carry 60 passengers in each of the 36 cars, for a total capacity of 2160 passengers per rotation.
  • The wheel would take 20 minutes to make one complete revolution.
  • You could ride the first Ferris Wheel for only 50 cents. In 1893, fifty cents was the equivalent of $10.52 today. A day’s pay in 1893 was about $1 per day, or $5 per week. To take your family of 5 for a ride on the first Ferris Wheel, it would have cost you half of your weekly salary!
  • The first Ferris Wheel cost $380,000 in 1893. By today’s value that would be the equivalent of $8,223,266.
  • Between its opening and the end of the expo on November 6 th , the wheel earned $726,805 dollars, which turned into a profit of $395,000 for the company that commissioned it.

    The Star of Nanchang - the world's tallest wheel

    The Star of Nanchang

  • After the Fair, the wheel was moved to a new site in Chicago. However, it did not bring in the patrons they expected, and the company quickly went bankrupt. The wheel was sold at auction and transported piece by piece to St. Louis for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition . Here it brought in less money, and on May 11, 1906, it was blown up.
  • The largest Wheel in the World today is the Star of Nanchang, which cost 7.1 million dollars to build in 2006. It stands 541 Feet high, twice the height of the original Ferris Wheel. Though this Wheel is not a “Ferris” Wheel, it would certainly rival the first one ever made.
  • The Ferris Wheel’s legacy lives today in modern-day wheels. Today’s wheels are not powered by steam, but the structure and turning mechanism are quite similar to the first one.
Special thanks to  www.shootingstar.ca and www.allstays.com

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