THE MASONRY MONTHLY
2005 Lincoln Ave., Pasadena, CA 91103 | 626-296-7700 | www.bostonbrick.com To a Merry and Bright Holiday Season DECEMBER 2017
Over the past several months, we’ve talked about fireplaces, chimneys, restorations, and safety. This month, we thought we’d do something different and fun for the holiday season. What do you know about the electric Christmas tree light? No matter which holidays you celebrate this season, many of us decorate with strands of light. We decorate our homes, illuminate our Christmas trees, and build elaborate yard displays. These strands of lights have come a long way since their invention in the 19th century. Before people transitioned to the electric light, they relied on candles and fireplaces. An open flame in the home — or any fire that isn’t properly vented — can be dangerous. But we don’t need to tell you that. In 1880, after Thomas Edison had just about perfected the incandescent lightbulb, he wanted to do something with his light. He wanted to get it to the masses. As the holiday season of 1880 approached, Edison had a bright idea. He strung together a series of bulbs and draped them around his lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey. He decorated the lab in such a way that people on passing trains could admire this new, vibrant wonder. The idea was slow to take off. Two years later, Edward Hibberd Johnson, a close associate of Edison, took Edison’s idea a step further. In his Manhattan home, Johnson decorated a Christmas tree with electric lights, making it the first electrically lit tree in history. He also used the opportunity to advertise the lights. Insurance companies were a major force behind the electric light craze. At the beginning of the 20th century, many families were still decorating their trees and homes with candles. This was a practice insurance companies did not like. They decided that if your home caught fire and an open flame was the culprit, you were not covered and would not receive compensation. For most families, switching to electric lights wasn’t the answer. At least, not yet. Most people decorated with garlands and ornaments. At this time, only the wealthy made the transition to electric Christmas lights. According to Appalachian State University journal, History Matters, a
string of Edison Miniature Lamps cost $12 in 1900. That’s the equivalent of $300 today.
It was also in 1900 that the first advertisement for the light strands went to print. The ad was published in Scientific American Magazine and did something interesting. It suggested that you to rent a string of lights, rather than buying them. That way, more people could afford the lights and wouldn’t have to worry about storage after the holiday season. Over the decades, more people bought (and rented) electric tree lights. By 1925, there were 15 companies in the electric tree light business. They even got together to form the NOMA Electric Corporation, which may have helped these companies survive the Great Depression and World War II. Since then, the lights we use to decorate our trees and homes have taken many shapes. Today, LED lights are among the most common varieties, along with the beloved mini light. As you decorate your home this holiday season, know that you are taking part in a rich history that goes back centuries.
We hope you and your family have a wonderful and safe holiday season, and may your days be merry and bright.
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