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The
NOMA
Story
Page Four

 


A war-weary public, tired of having to make-do with their old Christmas lights, eagerly snapped up almost every lighting set NOMA could make in 1946 and 1947, and the company enjoyed two sellout years before they could finally begin to catch up with demand in 1948. NOMA was now ordering more than 85 million  lamps a year from General Electric alone. Although NOMA had 41 competitors by 1950, they were still able to hold on to more than 35% of the electric Christmas lighting market, an astounding market share that any company in business today would be thrilled to be able to accomplish.

In 1953, Business Week magazine interviewed Henri Sadacca, Chairman of the Board of NOMA Electric Corporation, and Joseph A. Ward, President of NOMA LITES Incorporated. NOMA Electric had created their new Christmas light division, NOMA Lites, in order to keep that business separate from their many other divisions in operation at the time.

During the War years, Sadacca had been buying up different companies, running them all under the NOMA Electric Corporation umbrella. Some of these companies included the Ansonia Electrical Company (electric wire and cable), the previously mentioned Triumph Industries (bombs, munitions and fireworks), the Estate Stove Company (electric and gas ranges), the Refrigeration Corporation of America (home freezers), Effanbee Incorporated (among their products was Noma, the talking doll), and the Ward Heater Company (home heating equipment). NOMA Lites Incorporated carried on NOMA Electric Corporation's Christmas lighting and decoration business under the direction of Ward, who was personally selected for the task by Sadacca.

Also during this time, Sadacca started an independent plastics molding plant, which supplied the plastic light shades, decorations and novelty item components to NOMA Lites. It was called TICO Plastics, was named after Henri Sadacca's nephew Tico, and was owned by Leon Sadacca, Henri's brother. The factory did quite well.  In the mid 50s, Saul Blitz took over the company in a leveraged buy out, and it became financially independent of NOMA  Electric Corporation and NOMA Lites Incorporated. The factory continued in operation at 55 West 13th Street in New York City until 1971.

Along with the plastic parts used in NOMA Christmas decorations, TICO Plastics made children's toys. Leslie Blitz, Saul's son, recently wrote to me remembering how he went to the plastics plant on Saturdays with his father, where the place was like his own private toy land. Leslie fondly remembers the NOMA squirt guns, and was allowed to bring home a new one every Saturday. The plant made numerous plastic products that were non-Christmas related, including parts for the famous NOMA Talking Train Station, and the plastic body pieces for the Effanbee talking doll appropriately named Noma.

At the time of the incorporation of NOMA Lites, the company had more than 4000 accounts and thirteen warehouses. The main manufacturing plant was now in Saint Joseph, Missouri, and during the Christmas manufacturing seasons of 1953, 54 and 55, the company was so busy that many workers opted to sleep at the factory on cots to be easier able to take advantage of all of the overtime work that was being offered. The invention of the Vac-U-Form plastic shaping process made the introduction of new items much easier. Instead of having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to have a mold carved out of metal, the vacuforming process allowed inexpensive plaster molds to be produced. By 1955, NOMA was offering 20 new products every year, with many of them originating in the TICO plastics plant. 

Sorry, no larger version of this photo is available.
Two typical examples of Vac-U-Formed plastic lighted decorations by NOMA from the 1950s.
The lantern plaque is from the Glolite division of NOMA Lites.

The mid 50s saw the introduction of miniature lights to the American market, produced first in Italy, but later in Japan and other countries as well. These new lighting sets were foremost inexpensive, but satisfied the growing public demand for more lights on a tree without overloading the electric circuit. The earliest outfits were crude by American standards, consisting of twenty or thirty tiny hand blown lamps permanently wired into a thin and delicate string. These imported sets were not UL approved, but began to sell amazingly well despite their poor quality and lack of safety approval. NOMA began to feel the financial strains of competing with these and other imported lamp sets.

Another advantage of these strings of lights was the fact that the lamps each had tiny shunt devices in them, which permitted the string to continue burning despite the failure of one or more lamps. This benefit, in addition to the fact that they were quite novel for the time, contributed greatly to their popularity. NOMA, along with other lighting companies in business at the time, soon countered with their own versions of "expanded" strings of lights. One of NOMA's versions is pictured below:

1956 set of NOMA Twinkle Lites

NOMA's outfit was UL approved, and was of much more substantial quality than the imported outfits, but was also much, much more expensive. The set used a transformer so that each lamp could burn independently, and NOMA also contracted with General Electric to manufacture twinkling lamps for the outfit, so that each lamp twinkled independently on the string. The effect was quite attractive, and the twinkling lamps made merry little pinging sounds as each one flashed on and off. But, the twinkling of the lamp caused severe electrical interference in both television and radio receivers, and soon NOMA had discontinued the set due to poor sales. As the 1950s drew to a close, it was most apparent that American tastes in Christmas lighting were beginning to change dramatically-and permanently.

1959 saw the introduction of the famous aluminum Christmas tree. Since aluminum is a great conductor of electricity,
it was not safe to light the tree with strings of lights, and rotating lights, called color wheels, were used instead. Suddenly, there was no use at all in many homes for the strings of lights up in the attic. Those families that still preferred live or natural looking artificial trees were now using the mini lights, which were being improved all the time. They now had replaceable lamps with either screw-in or push-in bases, and sets of up to 50 lights were being offered. They were a far cry indeed from either the series wired eight light "if one goes out they all go out" type, or the seven light multiple wired sets, both of which were limited to 6 sets per tree. The imported mini lights were far cheaper, and by 1963 were far better sellers than all of the American produced lighting sets combined. NOMA at first tried making their own mini light sets in the United States, but could not compete price wise with the cheaper foreign import sets.

By 1962 the sad handwriting was on the wall: NOMA, the largest Christmas lighting company the world had ever known, was in serious financial trouble. The 1962 NOMA Lites catalog had a prominently featured letter from company president Joseph Ward, pleading for loyalty and continued support from its business customers. It read, in part:

"NOMA is meeting the challenge of the new competitive marketing trends by
inaugurating many new items this year, in addition to an entirely new pricing
concept of NOMA products. This challenge of making you more competitive
than heretofore carries with it a serious obligation....to continue giving the American
public the maximum SAFETY and QUALITY in our products. THIS WILL
CONTINUE TO BE OUR POLICY!

For nearly 40 years NOMA has borne the heavy responsibility of leadership in the
Christmas Lighting Industry. We manufactured hundreds of new items which have
increased consumer demands for Christmas lights and decorations. Our 1962
NOMA line of Christmas lights and decorations will carry on this NOMA
tradition...and, as in the past, every NOMA product will have incorporated in
it the highest American standards of SAFETY, QUALITY and WORKMANSHIP."

The letter fell on deaf ears, for the 1962 selling year was one of the worst in the company's history. It was also to be Joseph Ward's last year as company president. The beginning of the end of the company was not pretty, with lawsuits filed against company executives claiming, among other things, mishandling and unauthorized transactions with regard to the company's stock. Joseph H. Ward, Louis Szel and other board members were sued by Seymour Propp, the son of previous NOMA Electric Corporation president Morris Propp and a major stockholder, over an incident where Ward purchased large amounts of NOMA stock with company funds in the late 1950s. He did this to prevent what he perceived to be a hostile takeover attempt, but did it without the knowledge of the rest of the board. NOMA did not have enough funds to pay for the stock purchase, so once the board found out about the purchase, everyone had to scramble to find a loan big enough to cover the cost. A loan was finally secured, but that new debt only served to complicate NOMA's already shaky financial position. Court proceedings cleared most of the Board of Directors from any wrongdoing in the matter, but did hold both Sadacca and Ward liable for illegal stock purchases with company funds.

In 1963, the company catalog featured a letter identical to the one that Mr. Ward had written, but with the following words added to the end:

"This year, with the revitalization of our company, we expect to create even greater
 consumer demand for our products than ever before."

The letter was signed by the new company president, Morris Goldman. A look through the uninspired 1963 catalog shows a surprising amount of merchandise that was obviously purchased by NOMA from competing companies, ones that had either already gone out of business or were in the process of doing so. Most notably, the famous NOMA biscuit shaped bubble light was gone, and had been replaced by a style previously sold by Peerless. Sales for 1963 and 1964 were dismal.

In 1965, NOMA Lites Incorporated officially filed for bankruptcy. The end of the largest Christmas light manufacturer in the world had come, due in large part to foreign competition, and the failure of company management to react quickly enough to a changing market. Late in that year, the company was reorganized as NOMA Worldwide, and offered a huge amount of both leftover merchandise and imported goods, not at all equaling the quality of the company's offerings in previous years. Below is a picture of one of the last light sets that NOMA offered in 1965. The string was American made, but instead of proudly proclaiming the inclusion of American made lamps, the box simply says "with long life NOMA quality lamps", which was a careful way of covering up the fact that the NOMA brand lamps were Japanese imports.

By 1967, the NOMA name had been dropped, and the remaining company was known simply as Worldwide, Incorporated. Here is a picture of a set of lights from that company:

In the years since 1967, the NOMA trademark has been bought and sold many times. The once great company now exists in name only in the United States, as a licensed trademark. (In the UK, NOMA exists as Noma Lites Ltd, and continues to hold the torch). Many products have been marketed with the NOMA name on them in the past 35 years, and the name is now is licensed by the Inliten Company in the US. You can visit their website by CLICKING HERE. You can visit the NOMA UK site HERE.

End of Chapter

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