As a lighting design and advice company, we LOVE all things Christmas and sparkly lights, so of course we wanted to find out where the tradition of Christmas lights came from! It’s crazy to imagine now, but before the beautiful multi coloured twinkly lights that decorate our homes and streets, Christmas trees were lit with candles. And if there’s anything that doesn’t go well with naked flames, it’s flammable wood! Needless to say, before the invention of Christmas lights, there were many house fires.
Thomas Edison invented the light bulb in 1879, and a year later he strung lights together to create a simple strand of white lights, which were hung at the Menlo Park Laboratory and became the first display of electric lights in the holiday season. However, it was Edison’s colleague (and previous employer) Edward Johnson who strung 80 bulbs of red, white and blue together to wrap around his Christmas tree. He placed this tree on a revolving pedestal in the street-side window of his parlour so that passers by would stop and peer at the glowing marvel. WA Croffut from the Detroit Post and Tribune wrote “It was brilliantly lighted with… eighty lights in all encased in these dainty glass eggs, and about equally divided between white, red and blue. One can hardly imagine anything prettier”.
Although Johnson’s invention and display was impressive and wowed the crowds, the idea didn’t immediately catch on, for two reasons- firstly, electricity was still fairly new and many were sceptical of the idea of having these lights in their home. Secondly, these lights were not cheap! These strings of lights were estimated to have cost around $80 in today’s money. In 1895, the president at the time (Grover Cleveland) added electric Christmas lights to the White House Christmas tree, which aided in the spreading of interest in this more recent (and more safe) method of holiday decorating.
Eight years later in 1903, Edison began offering pre-assembled light kits for Christmas trees through General Electric. These lights began to become known as “twinkle lights” and although beautiful, were still only really affordable by the wealthy, as the lights cost $12 for a set of 24 lights, and the average worker was making 22 cents per hour. However in 1917, fifteen year old Albert Sadacca was inspired to improve Christmas Tree lights following a fire in New York City (once again, from candles on a tree!) by making safer and multi coloured (painted) strings of lights. That year his family’s novelty lighting store sold 100 strings of lights!
Fast forward over 100 years, and today you can buy string lights for your Christmas tree (or just all year round!) as long as you like, with as many lights as you like, variable colours, ‘twinkle’ settings, battery charged or plugged into mains electricity- the options are endless and we are spoilt for choice! Now we can accentuate our home with any number of lighting options throughout the Christmas period, but not just homes- stunningly lit walks are becoming increasingly popular during the festive season at venues such as stately homes and garden estates. We’ve so enjoyed decorating our office, and jump for joy each time we see festively lit homes and spaces!