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Early History of Electric Christmas Lighting in America
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General Electric took the lead in advertising miniature lights for use on Christmas trees. Their ads appeared in scientific magazines, women's and general interest publications from 1900 on. GE was by far the largest supplier of electric lamps for the lighting strings for most of the first half of the twentieth century. Here is an early advertising brochure put out by General Electric in 1904 . It is interesting to note that while the cover of this booklet shows Christmas use, the inside text does not list Christmas tree use specifically, although the box itself was certainly decorated with Christmas themes. The inside text is quoted below:

Early General Electric Christmas Lights booklet


General Electric Flyer No. 2134

In electrically lighted houses, the use of Miniature Incandescent Lamps renders possible most attractive effects and gives an added charm to all forms of decorations. Such lamps, by their small size and inconspicuous shape, are especially adapted for table, foliage and general house decorations. Having no flame, they are clean and safe to handle. They are instantaneously lighted by the touch of a button, and they will burn for as long as desired without attention. The only drawback to their general use has been the trouble and expense of wiring them so they could be connected to the lighting circuit. This difficulty has now been overcome by a completely wired outfit, in which miniature sockets and flexible cord are connected together, all made up and ready for immediate use.

This outfit consists of a number of feet of flexible cord with a regular attaching plug at one end, and branch festoons, each having eight miniature pendant porcelain sockets wired thereon. With the outfit is supplied the necessary  number of Miniature Decorative Edison Lamps, plain and in colors.

To arrange the lighting decoration, it is necessary only to screw the attaching plug into the nearest regular lamp socket, drape the wires over the table or object to be decorated, screw the little lamps into their sockets, and the decoration is complete!

The outfit is simple, flexible, thoroughly constructed and perfectly safe. It is neatly packed in an attractively decorated wooden box and forms a most useful and serviceable device, which should be in every electrically lighted home. It is useful as a general house decoration for the dinner table, for the ornamentation of walls, columns, balustrades, chandeliers, and for decorations of flowers, foliage, etc.
The full cost is low, considering that the Miniature Lamps are included, and an outfit once purchased will last for years and can be used repeatedly with little trouble and no additional expense.

The outfits will be supplied for eight lamps and multiples of eight; that is 8, 16, 24, etc. lamps. The junction plug is so constructed that extra festoons can be connected, and thus the size of the outfit in number of lamps may be increased or reduced as desired. 

The following is a list of the sizes supplied:

Complete outfit, consisting of one festoon of eight sockets and ten lamps--six plain, two frosted and two red--$5.00

Complete outfit, consisting of two festoons of eight sockets each for a total of sixteen sockets in all and nineteen lamps--thirteen plain, three frosted and three red--$8.50

Complete outfit, consisting of three festoons of eight sockets each for a total of 24 sockets in all and twenty eight lamps--twenty plain, four frosted and four red--$12.00

Extra festoons, ready for connection to outfit, consisting of eight sockets and nine lamps--six plain, two frosted and one red--$4.00

Main Lamp Sales Office
Harrison, New Jersey


By early December of 1905, General Electric was distributing a less colorful brochure, with almost identical wording. The only major changes to this brochure were the addition of a 32 light outfit selling for $15.00, and the omission of the particular lamp colors supplied with each kit.  The handout states that the lamps supplied are "plain and in colors." The brochure also states that "The Twenty-four Light Outfit is the standard size." Also, GE has now added "chandeliers or Christmas tree..." to the possible uses for the set. Pictured below are all four pages of this booklet, which was printed in grayscale (black and white).



General Electric's November 8, 1906 miniature lamp catalog featured a good assortment of decorative lamps, but did not specify suggested uses for them. Below is a page from that catalog, showing what was offered in miniature base styles that year. Styles "H" and "I" were the ones most commonly advertised for use on Christmas trees, although style "Festoon", while more commonly used in storefront windows, was used on trees as well.

Styles "H" and "I" were available in clear glass for 23?, frosted for 25?, natural colored (true colored glass) in green, blue or purple for 28? and in ruby or opal for 38?, or superficially colored (painted) in any color for 27?. It is also quite interesting to note that the lamps could be ordered tipless for an additional 4? each, a fact unknown to this collector until the discovery of this catalog. GE patented the tipless technology in 1908.

By November of 1907, there were at least  five companies actively involved in manufacturing Christmas lighting outfits. Besides General Electric, the companies included The Electric Porcelain Manufacturing Company, the Jaeger Miniature Lamp Manufacturing Company and the Heinrich Electrical Novelty Company. In addition, several companies offered the General Electric manufactured outfit under their own names, including the Manhattan Electrical Supply Company and the Metropolitan Electrical Supply Company of Chicago. The Bruckner Engineering and Importing Company offered German fruit shaped lamps for decorating purposes and the Vosburgh Miniature Lamp Company of New Jersey offered its colored battery lamps for Christmastime use. The American Christmas lighting industry was fast becoming established, and in the next few years was to become a major segment of the growing electric lighting divisions of many companies, both manufacturers and resellers.


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