How New York invented the Christmas tree

The electric-lit Christmas tree, that is.

Before about 1900, trees were lit with wax candles—a dangerous tradition that caused deadly house fires every season.

But in 1882, Edward Johnson, a VP for Thomas Edison, came up with an idea: He put a string of 80 twinkling electric lights—colored red, white, and blue with crepe paper—around his own Christmas tree in his Fifth Avenue home.

His electric lights attracted media attention and became a sensation among the wealthy.

But most people still had a mistrust of electricity in their homes (or perhaps they couldn’t afford this new technology) and stuck to candles.

That’s where Albert Sadacca comes in.

Sadacca, a teenager whose family owned a lighting company in the city, was reportedly horrified by a 1917 New York fire sparked by candles on a Christmas tree.

He suggested that his family manufacture colored strings of light to be sold as tree decorations. By the 1920s, the idea had caught on.

[Top photo: Christmas tree at the Greenwich settlement house at Hudson Park; bottom, kids holding hands around a tree, both from the NYPL digital collection]

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3 Responses to “How New York invented the Christmas tree”

  1. Santa and Lighted Christmas Trees Are As Local As That $35 Artisan Cupcake You’re About To Swallow | NOT NEW YORK Says:

    [...] to Gothamist (via Ephemeral NY) on this one. Just when you thought this local thing was gonna fizzle (wait…someone thinks [...]

  2. Which city park hosted the first Christmas tree? | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] York City pioneered so many emblems of the modern Christmas, like the custom of a holiday tree and the red-suited, white-bearded Santa […]

  3. A 19th century New Yorker invents toilet paper | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] things owe their existence to the inventors and developers of New York City, like Christmas tree lights, Oreos, chop suey, and […]

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