It made its debut on Christmas Eve 1931, in the muddy pit that would one day become Rockefeller Center.
A group of mostly Italian immigrant hardhats knocking down the brownstones on the eventual site of 30 Rock chipped in to buy it—a very humble 18-foot balsam.
They put up the skinny tree inside the construction site and draped it in tin cans, paper, and tinsel—as well as traditional cranberry garlands and foil from blasting caps used during dynamiting, according to a 2015 New York Times piece.
Public Christmas trees in parks had been a thing since the first one graced Madison Square Park in 1912.
But the workers in the pit were honoring more than just the holiday (and the fact that they had jobs during this Depression year).
They were celebrating because it was payday, with each man receiving his wages in an envelope beside their tree.
Two years later, with Rockefeller Center completed, the owners decided to erect and decorate a real Christmas tree, a 65-footer that went up outside the then–RCA building.
In its 85-year history, the tree has had its disruptions. Thanks to a war-mandated blackout, the two trees at 30 Rock weren’t lit in 1944.
In 1979, in an effort to bring attention to the American hostages held in Iran at the time, two men climbed the tree. One hung on for 80 minutes chanting “Free the 50.” (He was given a summons for trespassing.)
In 1971, with recycling catching on, the tree was turned into mulch for the first time—a tradition that continues once the tree has completed its duty come January.
[Top photo: AP, 1931; second photo: MCNY 1945, x2010.11.8801; third photo: MCNY, 1973, x2010.11.8796; fourth image: MCNY, 1945, F2011.33.2122Q]