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Early Advertising


Much can be learned from early advertising. Presented on these pages, in a rough chronological order, are some of the ads this author has used in his research.

1890- Thomas Edison published a small, 28 page promotional brochure/catalog that included within its pages what might well be the first commercial mention of the use of electrically lighting a Christmas tree. On page 14, the catalog reads:

"There are few forms of decoration more beautiful and pleasing than miniature incandescent lamps placed among flowers, or interwoven in garlands or festoons; for decorating Christmas trees or conservatories..."

1900- The earliest known advertisement for lamps to be used on Christmas Trees, sponsored by General Electric. It appeared in the November 28, 1900 edition of Scientific American Magazine. Notice that Edison's advertising offered to rent the light bulbs for Christmastime use!
1901- General Electric advertisement promoting sale or rental of Christmas light bulbs, from the November, 1901 issue of McClure's Magazine. The ad refers to a leaflet published by the company which included instructions on hand wiring a tree for lights.
1904- Ink Blotter advertising General Electric's new pre-wired sets of Christmas lights. The artwork is a direct copy of General Electric's cover art for their 1904 booklet advertising their first set of Christmas lights.
1905- GE Advertising brochure for their set of decorative lights. See A Brief History of American Christmas Lights, page two for more details.   
ca. 1905- Front and back views of an advertising postcard that General Electric supplied to its distributors and commercial customers. The card could be imprinted with the selling company's name, and then mailed out to potential retail customers. This card, from John Wanamaker's famous New York City department store, was never mailed.     
1906- General Electric's Edison Miniature Lamp catalog of November 8, 1906. Images of all 10 pages of the booklet are provided. Page 1 is upper left, going through page 10 at bottom right.

In November of 1906, the Elblight Company advertised a special lamp and cable combination that allowed the lamps to be placed anywhere on a special cable. The ad shows the lights strung from the ceiling of the Siegel-Cooper Company in New York City. It was quite an effective display. A different publication from 1906 featured a short article on the lamps and cables and is featured here as well. These products were manufactured at least until 1910, possibly longer. The lamps were manufactured for the Elblight company by General Electric. Lamp pictures courtesy of light bulb collector Tim Tromp.
1907- advertisement promoting a battery operated winking (blinking) light set from the Excelsior Supply Company. This is the earliest ad for blinking lights this collector has found. The set advertised is battery powered, and as such, must have been wired in parallel.
1910- While not actually an advertisement, this short article appeared in Scientific American Magazine in 1910, introducing figural Christmas lamps to the American market:


"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."





1914- Catalog by The Electro Importing Co., New York, which includes an assortment of electrical goods suggested as Christmas gifts, including electric Christmas lights. The catalog proudly states that "all goods are made in the United States." The forward in the catalog says that this "represents the first attempt made by any concern in America, to list between two covers, a representative line of Trade Marked Electric Holiday Goods, both for pleasure as well as utility." The Electro Importing Company sold a large line of experimental and standard radio parts, including radio kits for young boys.   
1917- The Vac-U-Rite Lamp Company offered this unusual and quite patriotic lamp for the Christmas season of 1917. Patriotic trees were all the rage, and this lamp would have fit in well with a red, white and blue tree.     
Here's an ad, dated 1917, from the Lumino Electric Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This collector had not previously heard of the company before discovering the ad.
1917- This ad by the Columbia Electric Novelty Corporation shows their Christmas lighting outfit, equipped with unbreakable composition sockets.
1917- An early ad for Christmas lights by the M. Propp Company, a prolific maker of light sets.


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