For more than thirty years after the acceptance of the decorated tree at Christmas, many of them were lightless. It was all very well if you had a castle with big rooms, high ceilings and servants to keep on eye on things, but the average family with children often avoided adding candles to the tree altogether.
Then, in 1882, Edward H. Johnson had a set of red, white and blue lights especially made for his Christmas tree. Conveniently, Johnson lived in one of the few parts of New York City that had electricity. He was, after all, a partner of Thomas Edison’s and vice-president of Edison Electric.
The night his tree was lit for the first time, however, none of the New York press showed up for what really was a historic event. Apparently journalists at the time were tired of ballyhooing yet another of Edison’s breakthroughs. A reporter from Detroit wrote about it, however, and described it as ‘a superb exhibition.’
President Grover Cleveland proudly displayed the first electrically lit White House tree in 1895, but lights didn’t hit the home market until just after WWI. That’s when Albert Sadacca, reading about a bad tree-candle fire in New York City in 1917, decided electric lights had to be made available. Using materials from his parents’ small manufacturing business he came up with a workable string of lights. He and his brothers founded NOMA and while sales didn’t really pick up until the 20s, they eventually took off. NOMA was the biggest seller of tree lights until the 1960s.
But before icicle lights, twinkling lights, LED lights, this is what it looked like (Caution – don’t try this if you don’t live in Denmark):