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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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Promontory and the Golden Spike: The Absolutely Amazing (and almost Unbelievable) Story

The Driving of the Golden Spike at Promotory Summit, Utah

The Driving of the Golden Spike at Promotory Summit, Utah

Fun Facts About Promontory and the Golden Spike

 

April 9, 1869: Representatives of both the Union and Central Pacific Railroads are forced by the government into a meeting to determine the meeting point, or terminus, of the two lines. Promontory Summit, half way between the two companies’ end of track, was decided.

April 28, 1869: The Central Pacific completes 10 miles of track in one day – a record that remains unbroken to this day!

May 10, 1869: The “Wedding of the Rails!” Many of the journalist of the day recount the events of the ceremony and record the event as happening at Promontory Point – when actually the rails were joined and the ceremony held at Promontory Summit – 35 miles away. As a result of this inaccurate reporting, most people today, more than a century later, still believe the rails were joined at Promontory Point, as this falsehood is repeated by the media, printed on postcards, souvenirs, in several articles, and even textbooks, and prsented in history class lectures.

December 1, 1869: The terminus of the two lines is moved from Pomontory to Ogden, and Promontory became just another whistle stop along the railway.

Locomotive "119"

1903: The Union Pacific locomotive “119” is sold to scrappers for $1,000.

1904: The line from Ogden north of the Great Salt Lake through Promontory and west to Lucin becomes a secondary line as the “Lucin Cut Off”, a combination trestle and rock fill causeway across the lake, becomes the main line. This new route shortens the line by 45 miles, avoids the climb through the Promontory Pass, and saves the company $60,000 a month in operational costs.

1909: The original Central Pacific locomotive “Jupiter” is sold to scrappers, also for $1,000.

May 10, 1919: The 50th Anniversary of the Golden Spike Ceremony. The town of Promontory was ready to host a grand celebration, yet not a soul appeared. Local newspaper had planned a great excursion and celebration. However, once they discovered the “Wedding of the Rails” had not taken place at Promontory Point, but instead Promontory Summit, “a desert without water or shade,” the celebration was held in Ogden instead.

1938: Railroad service to Promontory is discontinued.

September 8, 1942: An “Undriving of the Last Spike” ceremonty is held, as 90 miles of rail from Corinne to Lucin are pulled for the use in the war effort.

May 10, 1952: The Golden Spike Association holds its first annual re-enactment of the Golden Spike Ceremony.

1957: The last spike site is designated a National Historic Site in non-federal ownership.
July 30, 1965: Finally, Golden Spike National Historic Site is designated, and 2,735 acres are placed under the stewardship of the National Park Service.

July 30, 1965: Golden Spike National Historic Site is established under the protection of the National Park Service. This recognition of the site’s importance comes after 38 years of campaigning by Bernice Gibbs Anderson.

May 10, 1969: The Centennial celebration of the Golden Spike Ceremony draws 28,000 spectators, including John Wayne, who arrived by helicopter.

May 10, 1979: Dedication of working replica locomotives, “Jupiter” and “119”.

May 10, 1994: 125th Anniversary celebration to commemorate the completion of the Nation’s first Transcontinental Railroad is held. For the first time since May 10, 1869, the original silver plated spike maul used in the ceremony and the Gold, Silver, and combination Gold and Silver Arizona spikes are all reunited at Promontory for the celebration. 14,000 visitors attended, including Merlin Olsen, and the CEOs of both the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific Railroads.

July 30, 1995: 30th Anniversary of the establishment of Golden Spike National Historic Site

Special thanks to www.nps.gov

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