The history of Christmas lighting, and especially Christmas tree lighting was an avocation for authors, collectors, and brothers Bill and George Nelson. Bill Nelson started a site about antique Christmas tree lighting about 1999 and maintained it until health issues overtook him. In 2004, Bill's brother George began adding significant upgrades additions. But by early 2008, health problems caught up with George, and he, too, stopped working on the site.
It's worth noting that both Bill and George created remarkable resources, considering that they were self-taught webmasters. So, this site is a tribute, not only to early Christmas tree lights and the folks who made and marketed them, but also to Bill and George's hard work, which was almost lost. For more information about the extensive efforts to restore and preserve these resources, please visit our Restoring the Resources page.
All of the links below link to materials that George Nelson had on his version of the site between 2006 and 2008, though they weren't all on the site at the same time - George was constantly moving things around, adding topics about things he liked, and removing topics that he didn't think related.
Update for April, 2012 - The good news is that a contributor has recovered a fully functional version of Bill's original 2001 site that we will be adding as soon as we can. The hiccup is that we've had to change servers, so there may be a time when all the files are not available as we download and upload. If you're reading this after, say, April 20, 2012, and you are still finding broken links please contact us, and we'll try to track it down.
Update for 2012 - Bill's 2001 Site Restored!
During our efforts restoring George's 2006-2008 version of the site, we learned that a number of people had preferred the way Bill had organized his site. In addition, Bill had a few pages that George never got around to including in his versions. So we were delighted, in 2011 to host Tom Elmore's painstaking reconstruction of the 2003 version of Bill's site. There is more information on that effort at the Restoring the Resources page.
But the newest addition is a complete reconstruction of Bill's original 2001 site. This is the simplest version of the site and the fastest to navigate.
Initially you might think that posting multiple versions of the site would be redundant. But the brothers had different approaches to the content, different organizational and writing styles, and even different content. Plus, the brothers were constantly updating the sites and moving things around, so some links were bound to be broken at any given time. If you find a "missing link" in one version, you may very well find the information you're looking for in another. So we believe it is for everyone's benefit to present each version we can find.
As explained in our Restoring the Resources, every file on this site has been updated to work with modern browsers, etc. As a favor to future readers, I have removed the "please ask for permission" scripts on every page. So if you want to download a photo for your personal use, you don't have to jump through hoops.
However, this site is NOT public domain, and I would ask that you not copy and repost whole sections or pages. Any bit you do reuse on your own web pages should have a reference such as the following:
Source: Bill and George Nelson's Antique Christmas Lights Museum. For more information, see OldChristmasTreeLights.com.
For More Information:
Keep in Touch
We're always glad to hear from readers so contact us as often as you think of anything worth passing on to us or your fellow readers. Sadly, we don't have a mailing list for this site, but we do have one about Christmas stuff in general, including crafts, music, and memorabilia. If you would like to subscribe to the Family Christmas Online Newsletter, click here.. Right now we only send out 2-3 a year, but we're hoping to improve on that as our mailing list grows.
As we say on the Family Christmas Online page, our hope is that our resources can continue helping you and your family (as Dickens said of Scrooge):
Honor Christmas in your heart, and
"try to keep it all the year."
In the meantime, may God grant you joy and wonder every season of this year,
Paul Race, Family Christmas Online(tm)
For more information, please contact
Note for 2011: For a special announcment about an affiliated site, please scroll to the bottom of the page.
Christmas Tree Lights Without Electricity
A brief glimpse of what American Christmases were like without
electricity. This section includes some interesting
and early candle holders and devices.
A Timeline of Major Events in the History of the
American Christmas Lighting Industry
Early History of Electric Christmas Lighting in America
Information about how the electric Christmas
lighting industry got started, a picture of the first electric Christmas
and more about the earliest days of electric Christmases in America.
The Earliest Light Sets 1900-1920
Pictures of the oldest lighting outfits in the collection, both
battery and household mains powered.
The Roaring Twenties
It is here that the Christmas lighting industry in America really
got off the ground. Box art hit a peak during this time, and some of the
most colorful boxes the collector can find come from this era. You'll find a huge number of outfits both pictured and
discussed in this section.
As the American economy faltered, lighting outfits were made more
economically, in an effort to appeal to even the poorest of families. Low cost Japanese imports became much more common.
The War Years
The United States enters the War, and the American lighting is
forever changed because of it.
1941-1943:The beginning of World War II, and its
affect on the Christmas lighting industry.
1944-1945: War-era box art, the end of Christmas
lighting for a few years, and the Sylvania Fluorescent Christmas lights
After the War
The postwar economic boom changes forever America's perception of
the "traditional" Christmas tree and the way it was lit.
A Look Beyond the 50s...
A brief look at electric lights offered after 1950 and a short history of
the aluminum Christmas tree.
NOMA, the World's Largest Christmas Lighting Company
A detailed history of this incredible company.
Chapter Nine: The
History of Bubble Lights, Once the World's Most Popular Christmas Light
An interesting history, and discussion of the major legal battle
that accompanied the introduction of this popular light.
Lighted Figures and Novelties
Three pages of lighted candles, figures and other novelty items
from the early 1920s through 1950.
Lighted Tabletop Trees
A brief look at lighted table top and bubbling light trees
from the 30s, 40s and 50s.
Chapter Twelve: Just For Fun, a
Few Pictures of Christmas Past
Presented here is a small collection of photographic memories of
Christmas as it was in Great Grandmother's time.
Chapter Thirteen: Just
For Fun, some Music of Christmas Past
This page presents some very vintage recordings of
turn-of-the-nineteenth-century Christmas music,
recorded on Thomas Edison Cylinder records. - Newly Restored! To my knowledge this content is
unavailable anywhere else, even on archive sites.
Some charming glimpses into past Christmases, shared with us by
visitors to this site.
A Collection of
A list of interesting bit of information about American Christmas
lights, in no particular order.
My parents would have called these
"useless facts", but I find them quite intriguing...
A discussion of some of the most asked questions by site visitors.
More is always being added.
A lot can be learned from early advertising, and these pages present many
of the ads that this collector has used for research in preparing this web
A Combined Glossary of
Terms and Index of Manufacturers
An explanation of the terms used on
this website as well as information on many of the Christmas lighting
manufacturers from the first half of the twentieth century.
A presentation of interesting Christmas related
patents filed over the years.
A Listing of Manufacturers
A list of manufacturers divided into two sections- Before the formation of
NOMA and after the formation of NOMA.
Chapter Twenty Two:
Where to find more information, and links to other informational sites.
Note: OldChristmasTreeLights™ and FamilyChristmasOnline™ are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications™ (www.btcomm.com).
The original subject matter content and illustrations on OldChristmasTreeLights.com™ are Copyright (c) 2008 by George Nelson.
All updated HTML code, editorial comments, and reformatted illustrations on this web site are Copyright (c) 2010 by Paul D. Race.
Reuse or republication without prior written permission is specifically
For more information, please contact
Special Announcement for 2011: After decorating Christmas trees, the second most common use for electric light strands between 1928 and 1965 was lighting Christmas villages - mostly cardboard houses that came in sets of eight, because most light strands had eight lights. In our research on various Christmas subjects, we keep running into great people who collect or build replicas of these great, but somewhat fragile treasures. There are several great web resources, too, but much of the information is hard for beginning collectors to find. So we have put together CardboardChristmas.com™, a careful cross-reference of the most useful and reliable web resources about cardboard Christmas houses. We have also added a forum for asking and answering questions, and collecting information about these houses. If you have any interest in learning more about these little houses, please click here.