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The Earliest Light Sets
Page Three



Figural Christmas lights first became available in America in about 1906, and in 1908, the Sears and Roebuck catalog featured a small offering of the lights. It is interesting to note that they were offered for battery powered use as table decorations, with no mention of putting them on the Christmas tree. Here is the catalog listing:

In 1910, the November 12th edition of Scientific American Magazine carried this small article on the new lights, transcribed here in its entirety:


"The electrically lighted tree is now a feature of the holidays in many homes. This year, some new kinds of miniature incandescent lamps are available which should make the electrically lighted Christmas tree more artistic and beautiful than ever. The bulbs of the new lamps, instead of being mere "pocket editions" of the ordinary incandescent bulb, are shaped and colored to resemble fruit, flowers, birds and animals. Commercially, they are classified under five heads as follows:"

1. Small fruit: including apple, blackberry, gooseberry, lemon, mulberry, orange, pear, peach and strawberry.

2. Large fruit: including apple, orange, peach and pear. 

3. Nuts: including acorn, pine cone and walnut.

4. Flowers: including lily, rose and thistle.

5. Animals: including canary, clown, dog, owl, snow man, and Santa Claus.

"It is doubtless somewhat embarrassing to Santa Claus to be classified as an 'animal', but there seems to be no alternative. The bulbs are colored by hand with waterproof paints by professional toy makers. The realistic effect is considerably heightened when the lamps are lighted. As far as the base and filaments are concerned, the miniature incandescents are just like the conventional decorative lamps used in the past (and still available) for Christmas tree illumination. They have 3/8 inch miniature screw bases, and are designed to be burned eight in series on circuits of from 100 to 120 volts. By using a bell ringing transformer they may be burned in multiple, but while the arrangement has the advantage that the burnout of a single lamps does not extinguish others, the cost of equipment is considerably greater than with the series system. The bulbs contain one candlepower filaments, but the coloring material absorbs a large percentage of the light and softens the remainder by diffusion. Whether festooned on the Christmas tree or used to decorate the room or table, these fascinating little lamps add a touch of light and color that harmonizes with the yuletide spirit."



A- Songbird- The exhaust tip for this lamp is the beak.

B- Large pear- The flaking paint on this example is typical of the problems with these early lamps.

C- Clown- The exhaust tip on this example is the tip of the clown's hat.

D- Large mulberry with a very prominent exhaust tip.

E- A beautifully painted angel. In this example, the exhaust tip is hidden in the base of the lamp.

F- Lily, also with the exhaust tip hidden in the base of the unit.

G- A very realistic acorn. Notice the prominent seam marks from the mold, not usually seen in these early lamps.

H- Father Christmas. The top of the figure's hat is the exhaust tip.

I- A very brightly painted parrot. A high quality lamp, the exhaust tip is hidden in the base. Made by the WATT Company

J- An early snowman, much thinner than ones depicted today. Again, the top of the hat is the exhaust tip.

All of these carbon filament figural lamps lamps date to before 1910, and all appear to be of German origin.


A- Catalog of American Ever Ready Works Decorative Lamps, July 1, 1919. The catalog is of series-type Christmas and all-occasion lamps, for use on circuits of 100-120 volts. All lamps are miniature base models. It is unclear at this point if the American Ever Ready Works actually manufactured or imported the lamps, but they appear identical to styles imported from Germany by other companies. Research is ongoing as to the true origin of lamps like these.

B- Close up of the catalog cover

C- Assortment 0794- Birds

D- Assortments 0793-Lilies and 0797-Animals

E- Assortments 0800-Small Fruit and 0801-Large Fruit

F- Assortments 0795-Assorted Figures and 0796-Assorted Figures, including Halloween

G- Assortments-0791-Large Roses and 0792-Small Roses


ca 1908: An unusual outfit produced by The Electric Porcelain Manufacturing Company. While most other Christmas lighting companies operated out of New York City, this company was located in Baltimore, Maryland. The box is a bit larger than are most from this time period, and the labels on both ends of the box have a small, over pasted number "16" to indicate the contents of the box. Since there is a large gap between the words "One" and "Light," it is safe to assume that different numbers were pasted in the space as the number of lights in the outfit changed. Popular light counts of the time were 8, 16, 24 and 32 (rare). The lamp compartment in the box seems able to accommodate a maximum of  30 lamps, which would indicate a festoon size of 24 allowing for spares. Another unusual feature of this set is the fact that the instruction sheet, pasted on the inside of the sliding lid, is identical in every way to General Electric's instructions on their 1905 outfit. This time, there is not mention of a company name on the sheet. The photograph of the man decorating a large tree which is featured on both the box labels and instructions is the same one used in many advertisements of the day. It seems that graphics were frequently reused as various companies placed orders for printing jobs. This "graphics sharing" practice is evident on many Christmas lighting outfits produced well into the 1950s.

ca 1912: A very early outfit from The Electro Importing Company, this set is one of the earliest this collector has found in a lightweight cardboard box. Most sets from this time period were sold in either wood or very heavy cardboard containers. While the box does not specify the fact, this collector strongly believes that the outfit was made by General Electric, the American Eveready Company, or one of the Jaeger brother's factories, as the Electro Importing Company was not a manufacturer but a reseller. Lending credence to this opinion is the fact that the box states the goods were "Made in the U.S.A." The outfit contains an eight light festoon with green, pinched-bottom glazed ceramic sockets, and eight American made carbon filament lamps. Judging from the size of the box, it appears that the company could have added another layer of lamps and an additional festoon to offer a sixteen light outfit in this same style box as well. The label does not specify a lamp count, but merely identifies the contents as an "Electric Lighting Outfit." The Electro Importing Company was a major supplier of experimental and stock radio parts in the early years of the twentieth century.


Outside view, showing embossed label and sliding lid Inside view, showing the 24 lamp festoon with junction box Inside view, showing inner lid covering the lamp storage compartment Inner lid removed, showing lamp compartment View showing GE lamps in place. These lamps are outside painted, and the color has flaked off over time on many of them


This 1912 version of General Electric's outfit is the last style sold by the company. In comparing this set to GE's earlier versions, the collector will notice that the much less expensive wood container has crudely embossed labeling instead of the costly lithographed labels. The quality of the wood box itself is greatly reduced, and this particular example was made out of very thin wood with previous wood boring insect damage. The cardboard insert for the lamps and cord set is a cheaper corrugated production. The label, pictured below, has some important differences when compared to other versions. It is transcribed below the picture, with changes highlighted in red:






Beautiful illumination is a requisite of handsome decorations, and nothing is more effective for this purpose than miniature incandescent lamps. Such lamps have no flame to cause smoke, smell or soil, and are therefore perfectly safe. The enclosed outfit provides a simple and ready means of using miniature incandescent lamps wherever electric light is available for house and store decorations, and is especially suited for Christmas tree and Holiday lighting. This outfit is made up complete with all connections made so that it is ready for immediate use at any time by simply connecting it to the electric lighting circuit and draping it over the object to be decorated. An outfit of this kind once purchased may be used as frequently as desired and will last for years. It is safe, simple and convenient and avoids all the danger and trouble incident to the use of candles.


Each outfit consists of fifty feet of flexible cord with attaching plug and twenty-four sockets with all connections made and ready for use, and  twenty-eight miniature incandescent lamps in clear and colored bulbs.
After unpacking the outfit screw the lamps into all the sockets. There are twenty-four sockets and twenty-eight lamps, giving four extra lamps to provide against breakage.

At one end of the lamp conductor will be found a screw attaching plug. This should be screwed into the nearest regular lamp socket in the room. The lamps are strung in series of eight on these festoons on loops of cord radiating from a hard rubber junction plug. This junction plug can be fastened to the tree near the top,  and the festoons of cord with lamps can then be draped about the tree and entwined with the branches as desired.

The eight lamps in each festoon are connected in series with each other. Each one of these eight lamps must therefore be in the circuit (i.e., screwed home in its socket and making connections with the current) before any of them can burn. Each lamp must bottom in its socket.


Examine each lamp to see that the filament is not broken. Replace any that are from the spare lamps. See that each lamp is screwed home in its socket.

If none of the festoons light up, the attaching plug probably does not not make contact in the regular lamp socket to which it has been connected, or the current may not be turned on at the socket or switch.

NOTE: THE FOLLOWING WORDING HAS BEEN REMOVED IN THIS NEWER VERSION: After lamps have been placed in all the sockets, should the lamps in any series or festoon fail to light after the directions given above have been observed, the trouble can be quickly located by interchanging the lamps, one by one, with those in a festoon or series in which the lamps are burning. The same procedure should be followed in case any one of the series is extinguished after the lamps are lighted. The lamps with this outfit should be used only on circuits the voltages of which are within the limits given on the front of the box.

Standard outfits are supplied with 8, 16, 24 and 32 lights. Additional festoons of 8 sockets each with lamps can be ordered for increasing size of outfit.

Outfits having a greater number of festoons and more lamps can be supplied if desired. Additional lamps can be obtained on order (order should specify miniature lamps for Christmas tree outfit), giving the voltage of the lighting service at the house.

The outfit may be used for general house and table decorations at all seasons.

(Edison Decorative and Miniature Lamp Dept.)



The changes in GE's labeling indicate that while there was previously no absolute standard for the number of sockets in a given outfit, the company was now offering the 24 socket as their only product. Also, the set had been made less expensive to produce with the inclusion of a newer "hard rubber junction box". The instructions also have been changed to emphasize the use of the lights on Christmas trees, when they formerly referred only to lighting table centerpieces and other "decorations".

This particular box exhibits a most uncommon feature. Upon close examination, it is apparent that  the embossing
on one side of the box has been purposely altered.


On the long side of the box, the area  where the words "with Edison" appear has been deeply and evenly ground away. Later, it appears that the words "with Edison" have been ink-stamped (not embossed) in the same area. On one end of the box, the words "General Electric Company, Harrison, N.J. USA" have also been ground away. Strangely, the same words have been ink stamped back on. This collector speculates that it is likely that the manufacturer of the wooden box for the GE lights originally altered it to make use of it to sell another brand of lights in. The removal of the  words "with Edison" and  "General Electric Company, Harrison, N.J. USA" would make the box rather generic in nature, and could easily accommodate any brand of lights.  Why the box was later converted back to include the GE nomenclature remains a mystery. This collector also wonders why the alterations were done to only one side of the box. There are many examples of cardboard light boxes factory altered to accommodate  different brands of lighting outfits, but this is the first time that this collector has seen these practices on a wooden box.

Existing advertising evidence from General Electric supports the conclusion that GE stopped producing their series wired lighting outfits around 1915, or perhaps as late as 1917, the advent of World War I.      



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