by Michele Guttenberger
Since Thomas Edison was the inventor of the incandescent light bulb, he also became the first manufacturer and designer of electrical Christmas tree lighting. Newark, N.J., became the new North Pole for these twinkling inventions. Harrison and Edison’s General Electric Company were the modern day magical workshops for the holidays.
It all started in 1882 at the Manhattan address of 139 East 36 Street, the family home of Mr. E. H. Johnson, vice president of the Edison Company for Electric Lighting. The Johnson Family home became the first home with an electric lighted Christmas tree.
Interesting the first electric lit tree had patriotic colored bulbs and rotated as reported by the Tribune – “As the tree turned, the colors alternated, all the lamps going out and being relit at every revolution. The result was a continuous twinkling of dancing colors, red, white, blue, white, red, blue- all evening.” These hand-blown bulbs needed to be wired together like dainty pearls on a necklace. The Johnson tree was a real 1882 technical show-stopper. Soon, the electric lighted tree was a must have décor for all fashionable homes at Christmas. However, this new technology needed an expert tech support crew for successful installation. The wireman was the 1800’s version of amazing home technicians that knew something about stringing wire.
The Edison Lighting Company soon supplied 5th Ave department stores. The lighted trees were an extravaganza that attracted shoppers in droves. The early 1900s department store tree lights cost $300 plus the equivalent of approximately $6,517.75 today. However, it did include wiring services and a generator. With a price tag that was pricey even for New York City glitz, it was not unusual for Edison to have a Christmas rental plan for these lights.
Today, for those who live in the NY/Metro area, transport back in time and visit Thomas Edison’s West Orange factory lab and even his nearby Victorian era Glenmont family estate home historically decked out for the Christmas Holidays. The home is located inside Llewelyn Park, West Orange. Make reservations at visitor center first.
For special winter and holiday programs at Thomas Edison National Historical Park at 211 Main Street West Orange, go to www.nps.gov/edis or contact Visitor Information 973-736-0550 x11.