On this day, December 22, 1882, an enterprising New Yorker discovered a brilliant use for electric lights and became the first to use them as Christmas tree decorations.
Edward H. Johnson, who worked for Thomas Edison’s Illumination Company and subsequently became a company vice president, utilized 80 little red, blue, and white electric bulbs connected together along a single power wire to illuminate the Christmas tree in his New York residence.
Some historians credit Edison, Johnson’s friend and partner in Edison’s Illumination Company, as being the first one to utilize lightbulbs as Christmas decorations when he placed them outside his laboratory in 1880. When Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory was lit up for the holidays, the lights were strung around the perimeter of the building. Those riding the railroad and passing by got their first glimpse of an electrical lighting display.
Johnson came up with the idea of putting them on the tree, though this was three years after Edison had shown that light bulbs were realistic after putting them around Menlo Park Laboratory.
There was some initial resistance to the idea of using electric lights instead of traditional wax candles on Christmas trees, which had been in use since the mid-17th century. A few decades into the twentieth century, string lights became popular in modest homes and more popular among the wealthy.
It was in 1901 that the Edison General Electric Co. of Harrison, New Jersey, introduced the world’s first commercially produced Christmas tree lamps, which were sold in stringed sets of nine sockets.