Click to return to the Old Christmas Tree Lights Table of Contents Page

The Evolution of
the Series-Type
Christmas Light Bulb


In 1895, the Edison Electric Company offered the first popular miniature base lamps suitable for Christmas tree decorating. Most collectors refer to the shape of these straight sided exhaust tipped lamps as Edison pears, and also "balloons", "teardrops" or just simply "pears". These lamps used carbon filaments, and were made to run on various voltages, with the most common being 14, 15 or 16 volts. The early lamps like these were rated for light output in candlepower (CP), and most were designated 1 or 2 CP. Typical characteristics of these earliest lamps are as follows:

A very prominent exhaust tip at the top of the lamp
A small round or oval paper sticker with the candlepower rating and operating voltage
applied on the outside of the glass envelope
A sharply-cut, turned brass threaded base
A black, horseshoe-shaped filament
A plaster, ivory or red fiber insulator at the tip of the base

At first, these lamps were offered in clear glass, but colored lights soon followed with the introduction of red and green. Additional colors followed a bit later, including blue, amber, yellow, purple (rare) and milk glass. The collector can find these lamps that were made in the United States, as well as German and Japanese examples.

After about 1907, miniature Christmas lamps were made with a black glass insulator at the tip of the base, and the vast majority for Christmas use were originating from Japan. The white paper candlepower rating on the glass envelopes was left off, and the country of origin was stamped into the brass base of the lamps. In addition to clear glass, there are many color variations of these lamps available to the collector, and they are pictured below. The least common colors are the amber and yellow, and the purple color is exceedingly rare. Lamps like this continued to be made until about 1920 or so. The collector will typically find that American and German made colored lamps from this period are painted, while their Japanese counterparts are true colored glass.

Beginning in 1916, General Electric, the leading lamp manufacturer in the world, was selling their Christmas lamps with the new tungsten filament technology. Tungsten was a superior filament material, as it had none of the uneven burning disadvantages of carbon, and used far less current as well. The light output was whiter and brighter, and the filaments were cheaper to make. The envelope shape of the lamp was changing as well, as the manufacturing process would soon allow the delicate exhaust tip of the lamps to be hidden in the base where it would not be so easily damaged. The lamps were now round, and were technically referred to as a G-8 or G-9. The "G" stood for a globular shape, and the "8" or "9" stood for the size: 8/8th or 9/8th of an inch in diameter. See the Frequently Asked Questions section of this site for a more complete explanation of Christmas lamp sizes. Here is the breakdown of the evolution of the General Electric tungsten filament Christmas lamp:

General Electric Series-Type Tungsten Filament Christmas Lamp Evolution
1913 As early as this year, some small light bulb manufacturers (but not General Electric) were offering specialty tungsten filament 14 volt lamps for Christmas Tree decorating use. The lamps were quite expensive and not commonly used.
1916 First common use of tungsten for Christmas lamp filaments, round and with an exhaust tip. No markings, or simply MAZDA 14V stamped into the brass base.
1918 Tipless round tungsten filament Christmas lamps introduced. Same markings as above.
1919 The first smooth cone shaped lamps were sold, designed to imitate the shape of a candle flame. Markings on the lamps were in large letters around the glass envelope and read:  "G-E MAZDA  MADE IN USA."
1922 Fluted cone lamps introduced. Flutes are at an angle to each other and are shallowly molded. The GE marking on the glass reads: "G-E MAZDA   MADE IN USA". Pictured here is the "Snow Tip" paint variation.
1923 The straight fluted cones make their first appearance. Glass envelope size is a C-6 1/2. Markings read: "GE MAZDA   MADE IN USA".
1924 The smaller, true C-6 cones are introduced. Straight fluted, these lamps remained in production, virtually unchanged except for paint, until the 1970s. 
1932 The Mazda Detector lamp is introduced, and was sold for a period of about six years. Filled with a neon gas, it would glow  when burned out, enabling the owner to quickly locate the failed lamp on a darkened tree. Note the clear bottom to enable the user to see the glowing gas.

C-6 straight sided cone logo changes to a "stacked style":

1945 After World War II, General Electric discontinues the use of the MAZDA name on their lamps.
1949 General Electric switches from flat paint to a semi-gloss paint for their lamps. The colors are not as dark and rich as on the flat examples. The logo on the lamps reads simply "G-E"
1957 General Electric switches to a high gloss paint, and now uses aluminum rather than brass for their base material.
1959 The logo on the GE lamps changes to the famous "script in a circle" style, sometimes referred to by collectors as the "meatball logo".

The last year for the production of General Electric "C-6" lamps.


Another way of dating many of the old lamps and outfits from various manufacturers is by looking at the voltage rating information for the item. In the United States, voltage requirements and ratings changed over the years, and this information can be quite useful in assigning an approximate date of manufacture to your vintage electrical item. Here is a breakdown of the various voltages and time periods:
In the earliest days of electricity, Thomas Edison's electric companies used a voltage rating (or "pressure") of  100-110 volts, direct current. The actual voltage delivered to his customers varied within that range, due to direct current's tendencies to drop voltages in long runs. Toward the end of this period, Edison standardized his power distribution at 110/220 volts. Although some carbon filament lamps will have a voltage rating of 16 to extend their life, most lamps and outfits from this era will read:
For use in series-wired outfits  14V For use on systems supplying 100-110 volts
For use in parallel-wired outfits 110 V For use on systems supplying 110 volts
This time period saw the switchover to the use of 115 volts alternating current, which did not have the problem of losing voltage "pressure" while traveling over long distances. Although the voltage rating had increased by 5 volts, lamps intended for use in series-wired strings did not always have their voltage ratings increased. Lamps and outfits made during this time will usually read:
For use in series-wired outfits 14V or 15V For use on systems supplying 100-115 volts AC or DC
For use in parallel-wired outfits 115V For use on systems supplying 115 volts
It was during this time that the 120 volt alternating current system that we still
use today was adopted. All of the lamps intended for series wired use had
voltage ratings of 15 or 16.
For use in series-wired outfits 15V For use on 110-120 volt circuits
Extended life lamps for use in series wired outfits 16V For use on 110-120 volt circuits
For use in parallel-wired outfits 120V For use on 110-120 volt circuits

Additional information for this page has kindly been provided by Rick Delair. This collector sincerely
appreciates his kind assistance and willingness to share information.



Note: OldChristmasTreeLights? and FamilyChristmasOnline? are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications? (
The original subject matter content and illustrations on the product description pages are Copyright (c) 2001, 2008 by Bill and George Nelson.
All updated HTML code, editorial comments, and reformatted illustrations on this web site are Copyright (c) 2010, 2011, 2013, 1014 by Paul D. Race.
Reuse or republication without prior written permission is specifically forbidden.
Old Christmas Tree Lights(tm) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

For more information, please contact us.

Click to see sturdy Lionel(r) trains that are perfect for your Christmas tree.

Click to return to the Old Christmas Tree Lights Table of Contents Page
Jump to the OldChristmasTreeLights Discussion Forum
Visit our affiliated sites:
- Christmas Memories and Collectibles -
Visit the FamilyChristmasOnline site. Visit Howard Lamey's glitterhouse gallery, with free project plans, graphics, and instructions. Visit Papa Ted Althof's extensive history and collection of putz houses, the largest and most complete such resource on the Internet.. Click to return to the Old Christmas Tree Lights Table of Contents Page Craft and collectibles blog with local news of Croton NY.
Click to visit Fred's Noel-Kat store.
- Family Activities and Crafts -
Click to see reviews of our favorite family-friendly Christmas movies. Free, Family-Friendly Christmas Stories Decorate your tree the old-fashioned way with these kid-friendly projects. Free plans and instructions for starting a hobby building vintage-style cardboard Christmas houses. Click to find free, family-friendly Christmas poems and - in some cases - their stories. Traditional Home-Made Ornaments
- Music -
Carols of many countries, including music, lyrics, and the story behind the songs Wax recordings from the early 1900s, mostly collected by George Nelson.  Download them all for a 'period' album.
Best-loved railroad songs and the stories behind them.
Heartland-inspired music, history, and acoustic instrument tips. Own a guitar, banjo, or mandolin?  Want to play an instrument?  Tips to save you money and time, and keep your instrument playable. Own a guitar, banjo, or mandolin?  Want to play an instrument?  Tips to save you money and time, and keep your instrument playable.
- Trains and Hobbies -
Return to Big Indoor Trains Home page
Return to Family Garden Trains Home page
Big Indoor Trains Primer Articles: All about setting up and displaying indoor display trains and towns. Garden Railroading Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running well
On30 and O Gauge trains to go with indoor display villages and railroads
Big Christmas Trains: Directory of Large Scale and O Scale trains with holiday themes
Visit Lionel Trains. Free building projects for your vintage railroad or Christmas village. Click to see Thomas Kinkaded-inspired Holiday Trains and Villages. Big Christmas Train Primer: Choosing and using model trains with holiday themes Visit Howard Lamey's glitterhouse gallery, with free project plans, graphics, and instructions. Click to see HO scale trains with your favorite team's colors.

Click to trains that commemorate your team!