The NILCO Lamp Works Company was a relatively small player in the Christmas lighting industry, but later became a huge provider of fluorescent lamps under the Sylvania name...

In 1901, an entrepreneur by the name of Frank A. Poor purchased one-half interest in a small company then in the business of “refilling” or relighting burnt out light bulbs. At the time, it was a lucrative business, for a “refilled” lamp lasted as long as did the originals, and was much less expensive. The company that Poor purchased was called the Merritt Manufacturing Company, which was located in Middleton, Massachusetts. It was not long before Poor bought the remaining half of the company, and moved it to Danvers, Massachusetts. At that same time, he renamed his company The Bay State Lamp Company.

His business prospered, and by 1909, Poor decided to start another company to sell new lamps made by his Bay State Company. He named the new entity The Hygrade Lamp Company. By 1911, this new company was producing an astounding 3000 lamps a day.

At about the same time that Frank Poor was growing his company, a competitor was also developing a large lamps works factory in Pennsylvania. In 1905, the Novelty Incandescent Lamp Company had been organized in St. Mary’s and Emporium, and was busily engaged in making miniature specialty and decorative lamps for various markets. (At this time, General Electric, the largest lamp manufacturer in the world, had little interest in miniature lamps, considering them merely a passing innovation).  The Novelty Incandescent Lamp company, or NILCO, had become a very successful business, concentrating on specialty lamps for both the medical and budding automotive industries. The company became so successful, in fact, that it garnered the attention of General Motors, who bought controlling interest in 1910. General Motors appointed Bernard G. Erskine to run their newly acquired light bulb factory.  

Meanwhile, back in Massachusetts, Frank Poor's Hygrade company had become so successful in making new lamps, that it discontinued refilling lamps in 1916. The growing company relocated to new and larger factories in Salem, Massachusetts. These new facilities were able to produce almost 12,000 lamps every twenty-four hours.

 In 1922, Erskine and two partners bought the Novelty Incandescent Lamp Company from General Motors and officially formed NILCO Lamp Works.  Their lamp production was first totally in St. Marys, then, by 1924, expanded into Emporium as well. In 1924, NILCO formed their Sylvania Products Company in order to manufacture radio tubes. Shortly after the formation of Sylvania, NILCO branched out into the manufacture of colored specialty lamps, including Christmas lights.


We're sorry, but the big version of this photograph is no longer available

We're sorry, but the big version of this photograph is no longer available

This circa 1928 outfit from NILCO features NILCO brand lamps and has been used perhaps once or twice in its lifetime.
The sockets are marked NILCO, as are the lamps. The rubber coated wire exhibits the severe drying
that was a common characteristic of the early coated wire outdoor outfits.



In 1931, Erskine's NILCO and Sylvania companies and Frank Poor's Hygrade Lamp Company merged into one company, now known as the Hygrade Sylvania Corporation. Then, in  1939, Hygrade Sylvania started preliminary research on a new project involving fluorescent technology, and later that year, introduced the first linear, or tubular, fluorescent lamp ever made. It was offered for sale under the Sylvania name. Quite an innovation, the new lamp was prominently featured at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. But while the new lights were quite the attention-getters, there were no commercially available fixtures available for them. 1940 saw the opening of the first-ever fluorescent fixture manufacturing plant. Sylvania located the plant in Ipswich, Massachusetts. In 1941, Sylvania followed their triumph by opening their new fluorescent lamp factory, the world’s first.

American involvement in World War II prevented the manufacture of consumer-oriented products for several years, but the plants were kept quite busy in filling multiple Government contracts for bulbs and fixtures for use in the Armed Forces. In December, 1945, just a few months after the War had ended, Sylvania was the first major company to offer Christmas lights again. This time, Sylvania marketed their new innovation: fluorescent Christmas lights.



1945 set of Sylvania Fluorescent Christmas lights


In 1959, Sylvania was acquired by General Telephone, and in 1971, the name was changed to GTE Sylvania, Incorporated. In 1993, OSRAM GmbH purchased GTE Sylvania’s North American operations and formed OSRAM SYLVANIA, which is in business to this day.




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