The Morris Propp Story

Morris Propp, circa 1919

Few people have contributed more to electric Christmas lighting than did industry pioneer Morris Propp, the founder of the M. Propp Company, one of the very first electric Christmas lighting concerns. His story is one of hard work and strong family values.

It was Morris, more than any other person, who promoted and popularized the practice of lighting trees with electricity.  Here is his story...


Morris Propp was born in May of 1884 in Russia, and his family came to the United States in 1893. As a child, he attended schools both in South Norfolk, Connecticut and New York City. In 1901, when he was seventeen years of age, Morris went to work for his sister, Anna Propp Glasgow, at her store in New York City. A hard and diligent worker despite his youth, he toiled horribly long hours, usually working from 6:00 A.M. until 11:00 P.M. every day.

Due to his hard  work, Morris was able to save enough money to seek employment on his own later that same year. A devout Jew, he went into business for himself as it was hard to find a job which allowed him to honor the Sabbath on Saturdays when working for others. He became a door-to-door peddler of assorted merchandise, but soon was specializing in the sale of Welsbach gas mantles. These mantles were chemically treated so that when heated with a gas flame, they would incandesce, greatly increasing the light output of the flame. Extremely popular for both home and streetlamp use, mantles quite similar to the ones Morris sold are still in use today. The picture to the left is a circa 1908 Welsbach advertising tray, which shows the various mantles the company offered pictured around the rim.

Amazingly, Morris Propp was only 18 when, in 1902, he had saved enough money from peddling to open a tiny store of his own, located at 92 East Broadway in New York City. His savings of $250, a substantial amount of money in those days, allowed for payment of first month's rent of $45, twelve empty wooden cases at 25 cents each which he made into shelves, and a used countertop for $6. The remaining funds were used to buy stock to sell. He continued to sell the popular Welsbach mantles, and other gas lighting parts and accessories. Soon he was able to add lighting fixtures to his inventory, and not long after had developed an impressive trade with door-to-door peddlers and other merchants who re-sold his wares. Pictured on the right is a 1910 gas lantern using a Welsbach mantle, similar to what Morris sold.

During  these early days of the century, Morris  demonstrated  his wonderful aptitude for business by quickly capitalizing on the growing public interest in electrical illumination. He soon added electrical  accessories and fixtures to his line of wares, and it was not long after that he was actually manufacturing and selling electrical accessories of his own.  In 1907, Morris' brother Louis joined him to work in the business. In 1910, Morris married Anna Cohen.

Louis Propp circa 1930

1913 was a pivotal year for both Morris and Louis, for it was then that Louis became a partner in his brother's business, and together they operated the business under the name of the M. Propp Company. It was during this time that the Propp brothers also added a selection of very high quality electric Christmas lights to their line of manufactured goods, the humble beginnings of what was soon to become the largest manufacturing company of electrical Christmas decorations in the world for a time.

A circa 1921 set of Propp carbon filament lights. A look inside the box.
Outside view of 1922 set of figural lights. Inside view showing the charming lamps.
Outside view of a circa 1922 Propp outfit from the collection of David Neely. Inside view showing the early tungsten filament smooth cone lamps.

Once again Morris Propp's business skills would be called into play. As the first decade of the century faded into the second, public awareness of electrical Christmas decorations was heightened by a judicious but extensive advertising campaign sponsored by Morris' company. Propp electrical accessories were in widespread use by this time, with their line of Christmas lights leading the way. Almost all of the popular women's magazines of the day included Propp ads for Christmas lights during the season, as well as many trade publications and scientific journals. Here is an example of one such ad:

Wisely, all of the Propp Christmas light sets from the early 1920s and onward included the "One-4-All" connectors, allowing their use with just about any other company's brand of attachments. This allowed Morris' sets to be instantly compatible with those offered by his competitors, and sales increased even more.

The safety of Propp sets was loudly touted in the advertisements as well, for many people were still afraid of electricity, despite the more obvious dangers of using candles on their trees. The sets were approved for safety by the infant Underwriters Laboratories, and many advertisements proclaimed that Propp outfits were "Approved by Santa Claus and the Underwriters!" What more could anyone ask for?







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