Edison Friend Dazzled New York With the First Electric Christmas Tree (2023)

Like so many things electrical, the history of electric Christmas lights begins with Thomas Edison. During the Christmas season of 1880, Edison, who had invented the incandescent bulb the previous year, hung strings of electric lights outside his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey.

An article in the New York Timeson December 21, 1880, described a visit by officials from the New York City government to Edison's laboratory in Menlo Park. The walk from the train station to Edison's building was lined with electric lamps was illuminated with 290 light bulbs "which cast a soft and mellow light on all sides."

Did You Know?

  • The first use of electric Christmas lighting was by Thomas Edison in 1880.
  • The first illuminated Christmas tree was shown off by one of Edison's employees to reporters who visited his Manhattan house in 1882.
  • Electric lights were very costly at first and required the services of a trained electrician.
  • When the cost of electric lights became affordable, their use quickly spread as they were much safer than candles.
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It doesn't appear from the article that Edison intended the lights to be associated with Christmas. But he was hosting a holiday dinner for the delegation from New York, and the novel lighting seemed to fit in with the holiday mood.

Up to that time, it was common to illuminate Christmas trees with small candles, which could, of course, be dangerous. In 1882, an employee of Edison put on a show with electric lights that was fully intended to establish the practical application of electricity to the celebration of Christmas. Edward H. Johnson, a close friend of Edison and the president of the company Edison formed to provide illumination in New York City, used electric lights for the first time to illuminate a Christmas tree.

The First Electric Christmas Tree Lights

Johnson rigged up a Christmas tree with electrical lights, and, in typical style for the Edison companies, he solicited coverage in the press. An 1882 dispatch in the Detroit Post and Tribune about a visit to Johnson’s house in New York City may have been the first news coverage of electric Christmas lights.

A month later, a magazine of the time, Electrical World, also reported on Johnson’s tree. Their item called it “the handsomest Christmas tree in the United States.”

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Two years later, the New York Times sent a reporter to Johnson’s house on the East Side of Manhattan, and an astoundingly detailed story appeared in the edition of December 27, 1884.

Headlined, "A Brilliant Christmas Tree: How an Electrician Amused His Children," the article began:

"A pretty as well as novel Christmas tree was shown to a few friends by Mr. E.H. Johnson, President of the Edison Company for Electric Lighting, last evening in his residence, No. 136 East Thirty-sixth Street. The tree was lighted by electricity, and children never beheld a brighter tree or one more highly colored than the children of Mr. Johnson when the current was turned and the tree began to revolve. Mr. Johnson has been experimenting with house lighting by electricity for some time past, and he determined that his children should have a novel Christmas tree.
"It stood about six feet high, in an upper room, last evening, and dazzled persons entering the room. There were 120 lights on the tree, with globes of different colors, while the light tinsel work and usual adornment of Christmas trees appeared to their best advantage in illuminating the tree."

An Edison Dynamo Rotated the Tree

Johnson’s tree, as the article went on to explain, was quite elaborate, and it rotated thanks to his clever use of Edison dynamos:

"Mr. Johnson had placed a little Edison dynamo at the foot of the tree, which by passing a current through from the large dynamo in the cellar of the house, converted it into a motor. By means of this motor, the tree was made to revolve with a steady, regular motion.
"The lights were divided into six sets, one set of which was lighted at a time in front as the tree went round. By a simple devise of breaking and making connection through copper bands around the tree with corresponding buttons, the sets of lights were turned out and on at regular intervals as the tree turned around. The first combination was of pure white light, then, as the revolving tree severed the connection of the current that supplied it and made connection with a second set, red and white lights appeared. Then came yellow and white and other colors. Even combinations of the colors were made. By dividing the current from the large dynamo Mr. Johnson could stop the motion of the tree without putting out the lights."

The New York Times provided two more paragraphs containing even more technical detail about the Johnson family's astounding Christmas tree. Reading the article more than 120 years later, it’s obvious that the reporter considered the electric Christmas lights to be a serious invention.

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The First Electric Christmas Lights Were Costly

While Johnson’s tree was considered a marvel, and Edison’s company tried to market electric Christmas lights, they did not become immediately popular. The cost of the lights and the services of an electrician to install them was out of the reach of the general public. However, wealthy people would hold Christmas tree parties to show off electric lighting.

Grover Cleveland reportedly ordered a White House Christmas tree that was lit with Edison bulbs in 1895. (The first White House Christmas tree belonged to Benjamin Harrison, in 1889, and was lit by candles.)

The use of small candles, despite their inherent danger, remained the popular method of illuminating household Christmas trees until well into the 20th century.

Electric Christmas Tree Lights Made Safe

A popular legend is that a teenager named Albert Sadacca, after reading about a tragic New York City fire in 1917 caused by candles lighting a Christmas tree, urged his family, which was in the novelty business, to begin manufacturing affordable strings of lights. The Sadacca family tried marketing electric Christmas lights but sales were slow at first.

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As people became more attuned to household electricity, strings of electric bulbs became increasing common on Christmas trees. Albert Sadacca, incidentally, became the head of a lighting company worth millions of dollars. Other companies, including most notably General Electric, entered the Christmas light business, and by the 1930s electric Christmas lights had become a standard part of holiday decorating.

Early in the 20th century the tradition began of having public tree lighting. One of the most famous, the lighting of the National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C., began in 1923. A tree, place on the ellipse, at the southern end of the White House grounds, was first illuminated on December 24, 1923 by President Calvin Coolidge. A newspaper report the following day described the scene:

"As the sun sank below the Potomac the President touched a button which lighted up the nation's Christmas tree. The giant fir from his native Vermont instantly blazed with myriad electrics which shone through tinsels and reds, while those who surrounded this community tree, children and grown-ups, cheered and sang.
"The crowds on foot were augmented by thousands who came in motor cars, and to the music of the singers was added the discord of horns. For hours the people thronged to the ellipse, which was dark except in the spot where the tree stood, its brilliancy heightened by a searchlight which shed its rays from the Washington Monument overlooking it."

Another prominent tree lighting, at Rockefeller Center in New York City, began modestly in 1931 when construction workers decorated a tree. When the office complex officially opened two years later, the tree lighting became an official event. In the modern era the Rockefeller Center tree lighting has become a yearly event carried live on national television.


Edison Friend Dazzled New York With the First Electric Christmas Tree? ›

Edward H. Johnson put the very first string of electric Christmas tree lights together in 1882. Johnson, Edison's friend and partner in the Edison's Illumination Company, hand-wired 80 red, white and blue light bulbs and wound them around his Christmas tree.

What hotel was the first lit Christmas tree displayed at? ›

In 1904, the Hotel Del Coronado made world history when the hotel unveiled the world's first outdoor, electrified, living Christmas tree in the world! Before electric Christmas lights, trees were illuminated with candles.

When was the first electric Christmas tree? ›

In 1904, The Del – already considered a technological marvel – made history when it unveiled the world's first electrically lit, outdoor, living Christmas tree. Holiday lights were strung from the hotel to a nearby Norfolk Island Pine.

Who displayed the first electrically illuminated Christmas tree in his home in what city on December 22 1882? ›

On 22 December 1882, Edward H. Johnson, vice president of the Edison Electric Light Co., debuted electric Christmas lights when he lit up 80 hand-wired bulbs on a tree in the parlor of his New York City home.

Which two men invented the first Christmas tree lights? ›

In 1903, General Electric began to offer preassembled kits of stringed Christmas lights, making their use more affordable. Thomas Edison and Edward H. Johnson may have been the first to create electric strands of lights.

Where was the first Christmas tree displayed in America in 1830? ›

The first record of a Christmas tree on display in America was in the 1830s by a group of German settlers in Pennsylvania. These settlers were among the first in the new world to commemorate the holiday with decorated trees.

What is the oldest Christmas tree lighting in America? ›

Perkasie's ceremony began in 1909 and is now in its 114th year. It was officially recognized as the oldest in the US in 2015, when it was read into the Congressional Record by Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick.

When was the first Christmas tree lighting in New York? ›

1934. The year 1933 marked the first official tree lighting ceremony, organized by a publicist for Rockefeller Center, according to TIME.

Which president was the first to use electric lights on a Christmas tree? ›

On Christmas Eve 1923, President Calvin Coolidge began the country's celebration of Christmas by lighting the National Christmas Tree with 3,000 electric lights on the Ellipse located south of the White House.

What is the oldest Christmas tree ever? ›

The Moravian Christians put lighted candles on those trees." The earliest known firmly dated representation of a Christmas tree is on the keystone sculpture of a private home in Turckheim, Alsace (then part of Germany, today France), with the date 1576.

Which president banned Christmas trees? ›

President Theodore Roosevelt, an avowed conservationist forbid Christmas trees at the White House, but his children surprised the president by hiding a tree in a sewing room closet. December 1903.

Where did the custom of displaying a Christmas tree start? ›

Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Some built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles if wood was scarce.

What was the first Christmas tree lit up in the Rockefeller Center? ›

The first Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center was erected in 1931, during the Depression-era construction of Rockefeller Center, when Italian-American workers decorated a smaller 20 foot (6.1 m) balsam fir with "strings of cranberries, garlands of paper, and even a few tin cans" on Christmas Eve.

What is a tree with fake snow called? ›

What is a flocked Christmas tree? A flocked Christmas tree, or "flocking a Christmas tree," simply refers to the process by which many people around the word capture the real feeling of a winter wonderland via a generous dusting of artificial snow.

Who sold the first pre lit Christmas tree? ›

In the early 1990s the world's largest artificial Christmas tree maker, Boto Company (bankrupted in January 2008) started the first production of pre-lit trees supplied to Target stores.

Who was the first person to bring a Christmas tree? ›

The first person to bring a Christmas Tree into a house, in the way we know it today, may have been the 16th century German preacher Martin Luther. A story is told that, one night before Christmas, he was walking through the forest and looked up to see the stars shining through the tree branches.

What does the Christmas tree symbolize in the Bible? ›

(History.com). Christmas trees were symbolic as a metaphor that Jesus died and rose again in splendor in the same way a tree was cut down to its own death to be placed upward again in glory and splendor. The gifts surrounding would represent the greatest gift that Jesus gave to us of His glory, forgiveness, and love.

What is the legend of the Christmas tree? ›

The modern Christmas tree originated in Germany, where families set up a paradise tree in their homes on December 24, the religious feast day of Adam and Eve. They hung wafers on it (symbolizing the Eucharistic host, the Christian sign of redemption).

Did the first Christmas tree appear in the US? ›

The first record of a Christmas tree being displayed in an American home was in the 1830's by German settlers. The trees had been a tradition in German homes since the 16th century. Outdoor, community Christmas trees are recorded in use in Pennsylvania by the mid-18th century.

Which US state is the leading producer of Christmas trees? ›

Pacific Northwest

Oregon and Washington are among the most important U.S. states in the production of Christmas trees.

What was the tallest Christmas tree in the world in 1950s? ›

According to the Guinness world records, the tallest Christmas tree ever cut was a 221-foot Douglas fir that was displayed in 1950 at the Northgate Shopping Center in Seattle, Washington.

What country started the tradition of Christmas trees? ›

But the real origins of Christmas trees appear to be rooted in present-day Germany during the Middle Ages. In 1419, a guild in Freiburg put up a tree decorated with apples, flour-paste wafers, tinsel and gingerbread.

What was the first public Christmas tree in New York City? ›

In 1912, Madison Square Park hosted a municipal Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony, and the annual City Hall Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony began in 1913, initiated by acting mayor Ardolph Kline. The Star of Hope monument in Madison Square marks the approximate location of the first tree lighting.

Who pays for the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree? ›

The Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Plaza is donated every year. Instead of accepting money for the giant trees that adorn the Rockefeller Plaza, typically the owners donate their trees taking pride in the pleasure that the sight of it will give to locals and visitors who come to see the Christmas spectacle.

Is the Rockefeller tree still up? ›

Visiting Hours

The Tree will be lit daily from 5am-12am. On Christmas Day, the Tree is lit for 24 hours and on New Year's Eve it is lit from 5am to 9pm.

How many miles of wire are on the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center? ›

It's decorated with more than 50,000 lights on five miles of wire and a stunning Swarovski star, weighing about 900 pounds and coated in 3 million crystals. USA TODAY Gift Guide: No matter how you holiday, make it iconic.

Does the White House use real Christmas trees? ›

Description. The White House Christmas tree is selected from various growers nationwide. Growers in the state of North Carolina have provided 14 trees, more than any other state. The state of Pennsylvania has the second-highest total of trees provided for the White House with 11, as of 2022.

Who was the shortest president? ›

The tallest U.S. president was Abraham Lincoln at 6 feet 4 inches (193 centimeters), while the shortest was James Madison at 5 feet 4 inches (163 centimeters). Joe Biden, the current president, is 6 feet 0 inches (183 centimeters) according to a physical examination summary from February 2023.

Which real Christmas tree smells the best? ›

Balsam Fir

The Balsam fir is the most fragrant of the trees, making it the most popular Christmas tree variety. They're durable and have short, flat, dark green needles.

What state has a town called Santa Claus? ›

In the decades since, the town of Santa Claus, Indiana, has embraced the spirit of Christmas like a cozy blanket. Its local businesses include a campground at Lake Rudolph, Frosty's Fun Center Restaurant, Santa Claus Brewing Company and a theme park called Holiday World.

Where was the biggest Christmas tree ever? ›

The Rockefeller Square Christmas tree, in New York City, stands at around 77 feet. The Guinness Book of Work Records states the record of tallest Christmas tree ever, was established in 1950 in Seattle, Wash. The Douglas fir was over 221 feet tall.

What president banned Christmas lights? ›

So it was on with the space suit and down into the archives and into the circle of hell that was 1973, when President Nixon told America to turn off the electrical holiday cheer.

Why did Teddy Roosevelt not allow Christmas trees in the White House? ›

Theodore Roosevelt's commitment to conservation is well known. Less well known was the 26th president's ill-fated attempt to ban Christmas trees at the White House. Why? So many trees were cut down for the holidays, he believed, that it was contributing to deforestation—and he wanted to set an example for the country.

Which president created Christmas? ›

In a year of degraded public discourse, the story behind its legal place in our calendar can shine a light on an American leader who offered as his presidential campaign slogan: "Let us have peace." President Ulysses S. Grant signed a proclamation making Christmas a national holiday on June 24, 1870.

Why do we put ornaments on a Christmas tree? ›

Tradition states that from that moment, fir trees were brought into Christian homes, decorated in the name of Jesus. Hanging religious ornaments on a tree was a way to honor the true meaning of Christmas, Jesus Christ's birth.

Is a Christmas tree a religious symbol? ›

Even though Christmas trees once carried religious connotations, the Supreme Court found that a Christmas tree, by itself, is not a religious symbol.

Does Christmas mean? ›

Traditionally, Christmas is a religious holiday to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, and many people still choose to attend Church services at this time of year.

What do they do with the Rockefeller tree after Christmas? ›

What happens to the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree after the holidays? Rockefeller Center usually selects a Norway Spruce as its holiday showstopper. Once the trees come down, the trunks are milled into two-by-four and two-by six beams that Tishman Speyer donates to Habitat.

How much did the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center cost? ›

So, what's the price tag? Estimates say it would cost more than $73,000, with all things considered, per Market Realist. While the tree itself is donated, saving a huge cost for a gift of that magnitude, there would be the added expense of transporting something that heavy all those 200 miles.

How do they transport the Rockefeller Christmas tree? ›

3. The tree usually arrives by flatbed truck and is hoisted by a crane into place. But in 1977, the tree actually traveled down the Hudson River via barge. After being scouted, the tree is cut down and transported on a custom trailer to Rockefeller Center.

What is snow that doesn't stick? ›

'dry' snow. The size and composition of a snowflake depend on how many ice crystals group together and this will be determined by air temperatures. Snowflakes that fall through dry, cool air will be small, powdery snowflakes that don't stick together.

Should I spray my Christmas tree with water? ›

You should spray your tree with room temperature water at least once a day but only when the Christmas lights are off and unplugged. Spraying your tree daily will reduce the dryness, prevent excessive amounts of needles from falling off, and make the tree more resistant against fire and flames.

What is the white stuff on Christmas trees? ›

Adelgids. If a tree develops white "flocking" on needles, twigs, or bark, it probably has adelgids, which are tiny, aphid-like insects that feed on plant sap and secrete cottony wax filaments around their bodies.

How long does a prelit tree last? ›

If cared for properly, they can last anywhere from 10 to 20 years, said Jami Warner, executive director of the American Christmas Tree Association, an industry group that represents artificial tree makers. And since buying an artificial Christmas tree is a long-term investment, it's important to purchase one you love.

What do you get when an apple and a Christmas tree have a baby? ›

Ellen DeGeneres on Twitter: "What do you get when you cross an apple with a Christmas tree? A Pineapple.

What does the pagan Christmas tree mean? ›

Pagans would bring fir trees into their homes at Yuletide because it represented everlasting life and fertility. The Yule tree is decorated with lights, candles, and other festive ornaments to celebrate the return of light after dark days.

At which famous venue is a giant Christmas tree displayed each year in New York City? ›

Since then, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree has been a yearly tradition. Workers pooled their money for that unlit tree, with the garlands made by workers' families.

What was the first tree displayed at the White House? ›

The first known Christmas tree in the White House was placed upstairs in the Second Floor Oval Room (then used as a family parlor and library) in 1889 (during the Benjamin Harrison administration). It was decorated with candles for the Harrison grandchildren.

When was the first Christmas tree lighting in Rockefeller Center? ›

AccuWeather takes us back to New York City in 1931 when the first Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was erected. NEW YORK -- Each year, thousands of spectators pack into New York City's Rockefeller Center for one of the grandest displays of the holiday season -- the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

When was the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center? ›

WHEN IS THE LIGHTING CEREMONY? The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is lit on the first Wednesday after Thanksgiving at roughly 9 pm (21:00). In 2023, this is November 29.

Where is the most famous Christmas tree in New York? ›

Rockefeller Center and its iconic Christmas Tree are the epicenter of holiday celebrations in New York.

Where is the largest Christmas tree in New York City? ›

Rockefeller Center in New York City is home to one of the world's most recognizable symbols of Christmas — the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. The massive tree will be lit Nov. 30, 2022, and will remain on display until early January 2023, when millions will make it their mission to see it in person.

Which president did not have a Christmas tree? ›

President Theodore Roosevelt, an avowed conservationist forbid Christmas trees at the White House, but his children surprised the president by hiding a tree in a sewing room closet. December 1903.

Which president brought a Christmas tree to the White House? ›

White House Christmas Trees. The tradition of a placing a decorated tree in the White House began in 1889 on Christmas morning during the Presidency of Benjamin Harrison.

What state produces the most Christmas trees? ›

1. Washington. Christmas Day at a Mountain Lake in Washington State. Washington state produces the most Christmas trees out of all the U.S. states (apart from Oregon).

How long will the Rockefeller Christmas tree be up? ›

November 30, 2023 to Early January 2024: Visit everyday the Rockefeller Christmas Tree. The lights on the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree will be on every day between November 30, 2023 and early January 2024. If you want to see it during the Christmas season in New York, you can do so whenever you want.

How much does the Rockefeller tree cost? ›

So, what's the price tag? Estimates say it would cost more than $73,000, with all things considered, per Market Realist. While the tree itself is donated, saving a huge cost for a gift of that magnitude, there would be the added expense of transporting something that heavy all those 200 miles.

Is the Rockefeller tree still up 2023? ›

Visiting hours will be daily 6am – 12am, through January 14, 2023. On Christmas Day, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree will be lit for a full 24 hours and and on New Year's Eve it is lit from 6am to 9pm. After being cut down, the tree will be donated to Habitat For Humanity.

Who is hosting the Rockefeller tree lighting? ›

As part of the Christmas at Rockefeller Center special on NBC, the event will be hosted by NBC News' TODAY co-anchors Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb, Craig Melvin, and ACCESS Hollywood's Mario Lopez. But they aren't the only ones set to be at the ceremony, as this year's lineup is stacked with A-listers.

Is the Rockefeller tree lighting worth it? ›

The Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting is certainly one of the best NYC events in November, but there are also a ton of festive things to do around the landmark as well. We'll tell you everything you need to know, from how to get tickets to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular to where to grab winter cocktails nearby.


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