All of the outfits presented in this category use variations of a screw-in connector like the one shown in the figure above on the left. Early homes were wired for ceiling or wall lighting only, and the only way to tap into the electric power circuit was through a light fixture's bulb socket. The wall outlet shown above right was a convenience rarely found, and even with the cover flap was somewhat dangerous-especially for those with children. It was salvaged from a circa 1905 mansion that was being demolished.
General Electric introduced the world's first prewired lighting outfits for the Christmas selling season of 1903. An example of the outfit is pictured below.
When the courts turned down a General Electric patent application for the lighting festoon itself, any company was free to manufacture and sell Christmas tree lighting strings. Many companies did just that. The early years of the twentieth century saw a large variety of electric Christmas lighting outfits hit the market, supplied by many manufacturers and/or resellers. Among the most prominent were of course General Electric, followed closely by The American Ever Ready company (after 1912, and the forerunner of the Eveready battery company that we know today), The Jaeger Miniature Lamp Manufacturing Company, the Yuletide Novelty Company, The Electric Porcelain Mfg. Company, Empire (a division of Westinghouse), The Triangle Electro Trading Company, Franco and The Excelsior Supply Company.
A. This extremely rare Touch The Button outfit is circa 1904, and it is believed that the outfit was manufactured by Jaeger. The name "Touch The Button" is a reference to the early push button wall switches of the time. Jaeger is the same company that offered Santa Claus Electric Candles outfits in similar wood boxes. Apparently, there were two Jaeger brothers who each headed their own electrical company. It is probable that this Touch The Button outfit was sold by one of the companies, and the possibility also exists that it was manufactured by one of the Jaeger companies and then sold through a third party.
B. A view inside the box showing the restored covered lamp compartment. The outside of the box shows year around uses for the outfit, including decorating dining rooms for parties, store front windows and the like. The only mention of Christmas use is on the lid of the box. Remember, during the years the set was sold, it was prohibitively expensive for the average family, so companies tried to emphasize the fact that the set had many uses other than Yuletide decorating.
C. Inside the restored lamp compartment shows spaces for 25 lamps- 24 for the festoons and one spare. The lamps are American made and are of the outside painted carbon filament type, with porcelain insulators in the bases and the early "tin can" type center contact button at the bottom.
D- Here are two of the three festoons in the set, along with the green glazed porcelain junction box and the screw-in type current tap. The cord is silk covered, and each festoon has eight porcelain sockets.
E- The third festoon in this set is currently being restored. One of the sockets had ancient black electrical tape around it, likely to protect little fingers from the socket which had apparently been dropped, as half of it is missing. While unfortunate, it does afford us the opportunity to see what the inside of the unit looks like. The brass shell is held in place with some type of tar or resin like material, which can plainly be seen between the wires in this photo. The tar/resin also acts as a stabilizer and insulator for the wires in the socket shell.
F- Luckily, the tar or resin in the sockets is so very old that it is crumbling, offering this collector a very rare opportunity to actually disassemble the sockets without damage. Shown here are a top and side view of the porcelain socket shell, as well as the brass socket insert itself. Almost all outfits of this vintage are impossible to disassemble like this, so it is a bit exciting to have the rare chance to bring this set back to like new condition. The outfit is missing two sockets, so the search is on for a pair of replacements to complete this final festoon.
Note: OldChristmasTreeLights? and FamilyChristmasOnline? are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications? (www.btcomm.com).
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