They have become an integral part of many people’s modern Christmas experience, and we’ve created a very successful living out of it! But who decided to invent Christmas lights?
The craze began when Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, created the first strand of electrical light string in 1880. By 1882 he’d decided that Christmas time needed sprucing up a bit, and started to hang them outside his Menlo Park Laboratory, which people passing by on the nearby railway line would have seen.
Thomas Edison, the inventor of the first incandescent light bulb.
It’s quite a relief he decided to do this, as the previous forms of Christmas decoration were daring to say the least. A popular Victorian tradition was to place candles on Christmas Trees, normally melted on or placed in small holders. This predictably resulted in a number of home fires every year, which in turn resulted in electrical Christmas lights becoming a widespread global phenomenon.
It did take a while for the Christmas lights craze to take off, mainly due to the fact that they cost about the equivalent of space travel today, (ok, that’s an exaggeration, but the icicle light market wasn’t nearly as competitive as nowadays) and the working class had to continue to make do with lethal melted candles. It was only after a tragic incident in New York City in 1917 that the idea came for electrical Christmas decoration to become more accessible to the public.
LEFT: We’d recommend our battery operated candles if we are being honest! RIGHT: Albert Sadacca, whom at the age of 15 had the idea to make safer lights for the public at Christmas.
A teenage boy called Albert Sadacca (whose family owned a lighting business) had the idea after this accident that electrical lights should become a family commodity at Christmas time. The first year they offered White String lights; around 100 were sold. The following year they offered a multi-coloured option as well, and this time thousands flew off the shelves. A multi-million pound business was born!
Along with his brothers, they set up NOMA lighting, a business which monopolised the Christmas lighting sector until the 60’s when cheaper, imported versions from Asia and the Middle East became available. We can trace the birth of the first large Christmas lighting display back to that man Edison again, and in particular one of his protégés, Edward H. Johnson. He put together the first commercial outdoor display in 1890, winding 80 red, white and blue bulbs individually around his Christmas tree. The Christmas tree could also revolve around at the same time (maybe we should start selling these, keep looking out for revolving trees in 2015!)
NOMA lighting, Albert Sadacca’s Company.
So it seems that we have the Americans to thank for the early advancements in Christmas lighting. So, on behalf of all of the staff at Festive Lights, thank you America for your forward thinking and for keeping us employed!