The
Morris Propp
Story

 


 

Few people contributed more to promote electric Christmas lighting than did industry pioneer Morris Propp, founder of the M. Propp Company. For a time, his company was one of the biggest Christmas lighting concerns in the United States. His story is one of hard work and strong family values...

Morris Propp, circa 1919

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. It was 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, the purchase of 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 1905 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.

Morris proudly employed family members in his business, and, along with his brother, many cousins and other family members immigrating to the United States were given good, solid starts through employment within his company. One family member, writing of her father's sister and her immigration to the US from Lithuania, described Morris as a "very well to do relative who manufactured electrical devices like Christmas tree lights." The woman was most appreciative of the kind help that Morris extended to family. She went on to say that Morris was "very successful", and "wore black silk suits, and had an almost Chinese cast of features..." The sister's son, Louis Gordon, was quite involved in the day-to-day operation of the Propp company.

 


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. Below is an ad placed in October of 1917:

Once again Morris Propp's business skills were effectively showcased. Always the businessman, Morris recognized the value of good advertising, and soon, 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 period included Propp ads for Christmas lights during the season, as well as many trade publications and scientific journals. Below are several examples of Propp advertising and a Propp light bulb.

Circa 1918 carbon filament lamp with Propp name. Lamp was made by General Electric. Circa 1921 Dealer's Wall Sign Circa 1922 Trade Card Circa 1922 Ink Blotter

The safety of Propp sets was loudly touted in 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 Underwriters Laboratories, and many advertisements proclaimed that Propp outfits were "Approved by Santa Claus and the Underwriters!" What more could anyone ask for?

HOME   TABLE OF CONTENTS   NEXT
 


Note: OldChristmasTreeLights™ and FamilyChristmasOnline™ are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications™ (www.btcomm.com).
The original subject matter content and illustrations on the OldChristmasTreeLights.com™ product description pages are Copyright (c) 2001, 2008 by Bill and George Nelson.
All updated HTML code, editorial comments, and reformatted illustrations on this web site are Copyright (c) 2010, 2011, 2013, 1014 by Paul D. Race.
Reuse or republication without prior written permission is specifically forbidden.


For more information, please contact us.


Click to see sturdy Lionel(r) trains that are perfect for your Christmas tree.



Click to return to the Old Christmas Tree Lights Table of Contents Page
Jump to the OldChristmasTreeLights Discussion Forum
Visit our affiliated sites:
- Christmas Memories and Collectibles -
Visit the FamilyChristmasOnline site. Visit Howard Lamey's glitterhouse gallery, with free project plans, graphics, and instructions. Visit Papa Ted Althof's extensive history and collection of putz houses, the largest and most complete such resource on the Internet.. Click to return to the Old Christmas Tree Lights Table of Contents Page Craft and collectibles blog with local news of Croton NY.
Click to visit Fred's Noel-Kat store.
- Family Activities and Crafts -
Click to see reviews of our favorite family-friendly Christmas movies. Free, Family-Friendly Christmas Stories Decorate your tree the old-fashioned way with these kid-friendly projects. Free plans and instructions for starting a hobby building vintage-style cardboard Christmas houses. Click to find free, family-friendly Christmas poems and - in some cases - their stories. Traditional Home-Made Ornaments
- Music -
Carols of many countries, including music, lyrics, and the story behind the songs Wax recordings from the early 1900s, mostly collected by George Nelson.  Download them all for a 'period' album.
Best-loved railroad songs and the stories behind them.
Heartland-inspired music, history, and acoustic instrument tips. Own a guitar, banjo, or mandolin?  Want to play an instrument?  Tips to save you money and time, and keep your instrument playable. Own a guitar, banjo, or mandolin?  Want to play an instrument?  Tips to save you money and time, and keep your instrument playable.
- Trains and Hobbies -
Return to Big Indoor Trains Home page
Return to Family Garden Trains Home page
Big Indoor Trains Primer Articles: All about setting up and displaying indoor display trains and towns. Garden Railroading Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running well
On30 and O Gauge trains to go with indoor display villages and railroads
Big Christmas Trains: Directory of Large Scale and O Scale trains with holiday themes
Visit Lionel Trains. Free building projects for your vintage railroad or Christmas village. Click to see Thomas Kinkaded-inspired Holiday Trains and Villages. Big Christmas Train Primer: Choosing and using model trains with holiday themes Visit Howard Lamey's glitterhouse gallery, with free project plans, graphics, and instructions. Click to see HO scale trains with your favorite team's colors.



Click to trains that commemorate your team!