THE ANTIQUE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS MUSEUM
Detailing Important Events in the History of the American Christmas Lighting
Edward Johnson, a business associate of Thomas
Edison, electrically lights a Christmas tree for the first time.
1892: The General Electric Company was founded.
The Company bought the patent rights to Edison's light bulb
and his light bulb factory.
The first electrically lighted Christmas tree was displayed in the White House.
This event was instrumental in bringing the wonder of electric Christmas tree lighting to the awareness of the
General Electric used their famous logo, the script GE letters in a circle, for
the first time. It was registered
on September 18, 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. The
advertising offered to either sell or
rent the light bulbs for Christmastime use!
1901: The first commercially available light sets are offered, but mainly to
businesses interested in attracting
attention in their storefront windows. These sets were sometimes socket-less,
and had to be hand wired.
The first sets of pre-wired lights intended for Christmas trees were offered to
the public by General Electric.
The outfits included miniature base GE/Edison carbon filament lamps, with
prominent exhaust tips at the top of the
glass envelopes and a festoon of 24 sockets.
Underwriter's Laboratories first certifies decorative electrical light strings.
The first two certified in this year were the Elblight System and General
Electric's lighting outfit.
Tungsten, a more efficient material for light bulb filaments, was first used in
the manufacture of light bulbs.
Due to high cost, the material was not yet utilized in Christmas tree lamps.
It is about this time that figural Christmas lights were introduced in the
United States. The earliest lamps were
imported from Austria and Germany.
The "MAZDA" name was first used by General Electric.
The name was taken from Persian mythology: the
female Ahura Mazda being the god of light. It was soon licensed by Westinghouse
as well, and became accepted
by the buying public as a sign of quality and long life.
The General Electric Company begins to change the shape of their Christmas lamps
from the traditional
pear shape to a perfectly round globe. The lamps still had an exhaust tip at the
top, and still used carbon filaments.
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1912: The General Electric Company now uses and licenses the MAZDA trademark
exclusively for the new tungsten
filament household lamps, and does not allow its use with carbon filament lamps. Tungsten
burns more evenly and lasts far longer
than carbon filaments.
The American Ever Ready Company sells the first Christmas lighting sets of their
own manufacture. (They previously sold light sets made by GE, house branded with
CLICK HERE for a brief history of the
The first common use of tungsten filaments in Christmas light bulbs begins.
General Electric first uses tungsten
filaments in their globe shaped Christmas lamps. Tungsten filament globe lights
can be found either with or without
the exhaust tip on them. Soon, many Christmas lighting outfit manufacturers
proudly proclaim the inclusion of MAZDA
lamps in their strings. In the famous advertising paintings for General Electric
Mazda Lamps done by Maxfield Parrish,
there are often women depicted in flowing robes, a tribute to the heritage of
The use of carbon filaments in American manufactured Christmas light bulbs
virtually disappears. Carbon filaments
were still being offered in less expensive imported figural lamps.
General Electric offers for the first time a flame or cone shaped Christmas
lamp, with a tungsten filament. This
shape was soon to become the industry standard, manufactured until the early
1970s. The earliest of these cones
are smooth and slightly larger than the later lamps which are ribbed.
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Lester Haft, an employee of the C.D. Wood Electric Company, invented
the "Tri-Plug" or "Tatchon" connector
for Christmas lights. It was intended to facilitate the interconnection of
several strands of lights. There were two
versions, one for the familiar bladed plugs and another that accepted the
earliest form of screw-in type connectors.
CLICK HERE for more information on this invention
that forever changed the American Christmas lighting industry.
1922: The Underwriter's Laboratories first
for American electric Christmas light
strings. The UL safety designation had been used by manufacturers as an effective sales and
marketing tool. The earliest outfits merely
state that they are "Approved Lighting Outfits", while sets made
after 1929 carried the
familiar UL seal of approval, either printed on
the box or found on a paper tag on the cord.
The round globe lamps are discontinued by General Electric, in favor
of the now popular cone shape.
The Japanese begin offering huge quantities of figural lamps molded in milk
glass. Paint adhered better to this
glass, and when it did flake off the light was still a bit more attractive than
the clear glass type. These milk glass lights
did not have the superior detail of the Austrian and German lamps, but due to
the fact that they were machine-made,
their cost was far less. Within a few years, the Japanese figurals dominated the
The smooth cone lamps by General Electric and Westinghouse are
replaced by the slightly smaller ribbed
or textured variety. These lamps continued to be made, virtually unchanged,
until the early 1970s.
A trade association is formed by 15 of the firms then engaged in Christmas
lighting manufacture. All of these
companies also held licenses for the Tri-Plug connection device. The trade group
is named The National Outfit
Manufacturing Association, or N.O.M.A.
The above named trade association members officially merged into a
single company, becoming the
now-famous NOMA Electric Corporation. It was the
largest Christmas lighting company in the world, and is
still a licensed trademark today. CLICK HERE for
more information on this company.
Eugene Kukla invented a small wooden bead, usually painted red (and sometimes,
but rarely, found in green
and even blue) that was attached below the outfit light sockets and served to
hold the lamp upright on tree branches.
It was a common but incorrect belief that Christmas light bulbs would burn
longer in an upright position. Originally
offered by the M. Propp company on their lighting outfits, NOMA became the owner
of the rights to manufacture the
beads through the 1927 merger with Propp, and trademarked them as "Berry
General Electric first used the large, intermediate size base for their new
outdoor Christmas light bulbs. The outfits
consisted of 7 lamps, and were wired in parallel so that the failure of a single
lamp would not affect the rest. The earliest
of these lights are round, but by 1928 they were the familiar swirled or flame
shape. Also, the early lamps were painted on
the outside, but later issues feature a scratchproof inside color. These lamps
are still made today, although they are once
again smooth rather than textured, and the color is on the outside. It is
interesting to note that General Electric and the
various Edison Electric distribution companies sponsored many neighborhood
"decorating with color-light" contests,
in an effort to induce sales of the new outfits. Their strategy worked quite
well, as within several years communities all
over the United States held friendly outdoor decorating competitions at
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1932: General Electric offers bell shaped lamps for the first time. These are
called by collectors "MAZDA Bells".
General Electric first offers their new, candelabra based lamps for indoor use.
These are cooler burning, and
are parallel wired so the failure of a single lamp will not affect the operation
of others in the string. NOMA and
ClemCo first sold sets with these new C-7 lamps. The sets were slow in gaining
acceptance, as a major disadvantage
was their high manufacturing cost. Parallel wired indoor lighting sets did not
become popular until after
the end of World War II.
General Electric introduced their new candle shaped lamps. These lamps had a
major disadvantage in that the
filaments often burned quite close to the glass envelope, creating a circular
burn spot in the paint of the lamp.
March of this year saw the formation of NOMA Electric Company Limited in the
United Kingdom, a company
still in business and still manufacturing Christmas lights today.
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World War II begins. No Christmas lights are manufactured
throughout the War years, and many of the
smaller lighting companies, unable to convert their factories to Wartime
materials production, go out of business or
are swallowed up by the larger companies, such as NOMA and Paramount.
General Electric drops the use of the trademark name MAZDA on its
Sylvania first introduced their fluorescent Christmas lights. An unattractive
milky white in the box, they glow
with wonderful pastel colors when power is
applied. The sets were expensive, selling for $6.95 (around $50.00 today),
were not big sellers.
NOMA first markets their famous Bubble Lights. Unable to hold a patent on them,
many other companies offer
their own bubbling light sets by 1947.
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About this year, Americans were introduced to the now universal miniature or
"Fairy Lights". First produced
in Italy, other countries soon followed, including Germany, Holland and Japan.
The earliest of these sets have no
bases and are direct wired into the light string. Later sets used tiny screw-in
bases, with companies finally progressing
to the familiar plastic base push-in lamps. The lights were never produced n
America. Huge amounts of imported sets
begin to have a dramatic effect of the American Christmas Lighting Industry.
General Electric switches to the use of aluminum for their lamp bases. Most of
the other lighting companies
Several companies offer "expanded" series wired light sets, consisting of 15-20
miniature base lamps that
were smaller than the traditional cone lamps. They did not remain on the market
long, as the midget or "Fairy" lights
were gaining in popularity.
This year saw the first widespread appearance of "Twinkling Lamps", candelabra
based units with the flasher
built in to the lamp. Introduced in Japan, General Electric and Westinghouse
soon offered their own varieties, both
with transparent paint. The earliest of the flashing lamps have a larger globe
size than normal, and have inside,
solid color paint.
1956: Low-voltage transformer outfits appear on the market. These were high-quality
outfits, and were run from
a transformer, which to some made decorating a bit difficult. They sold for
about $7.00 a set, which was expensive
for the time, and was probably one reason they disappeared from the market by
General Electric first offers the globe shaped Lighted Ice bulbs. A
popular offering, these lamps can still be
1959: The Aluminum Specialty
Company first introduced the aluminum Christmas tree to a somewhat confused
American public. Marketed as a permanent tree, sales were somewhat less than
stellar. Electric tree lights then
available on the market could not be used with these new trees, due to safety
concerns. The only way to light them
was with a spotlight, or rotating color wheel.
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The Aluminum Specialty Company offered its flagship aluminum tree, The
Evergleam. Sales really took off.
Since aluminum is an excellent conductor of electricity, standard lighting
outfits could not be used. As mentioned
directly above, spotlights or rotating color wheels had to be used. The aluminum
tree became so popular with
Americans, that sales of strings of electric lights took a nosedive, severely
impacting an industry already struggling
with offshore competition.
General Electric offers 100% American made lighting outfits, advertising that
this is the first time the
company has ever sold lighting outfits that were entirely GE manufactured.
NOMA, the largest Christmas lighting company in the world, files for bankruptcy.
By this time, almost all Christmas lighting outfits are foreign made. NOMA is no
longer the major company
it once was, and in fact is a trademark name only. Americans are lighting their
trees almost exclusively with
imported miniature lights.
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