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Thomas Edison’s New-Fangled Christmas Lights

It’s hard to believe, but already we find ourselves on the verge of another holiday season. Very soon lots of homeowners will be working hard – and risking life and limb – to install spectacular displays of Christmas lights (or they’ll wisely request that TLC handle the job for them!).


And then for a magical few months, we’ll all enjoy the beauty that those magnificent light displays add to our lives. All too soon the season will be over. The lights will come down, and be stored away for the next holiday season.

But for those few wonderful months, those lights will add an element of splendor and wonder to each of our lives.

These days it’s quite difficult to imagine a holiday season without all those magnificent light displays. But it wasn’t much more than a century ago that electric Christmas lights first appeared. And the holiday season has never again been the same.

Here’s the story of that very first display of Christmas lights.

The Year Is 1880…

It’s a dark night in December. Christmas is just around the corner. But onboard a train that’s chugging through the rural New Jersey countryside, there’s not much excitement about the impending holiday.

Instead, bone-weary travelers are attempting to keep boredom at bay with idle chatter, or by reading the paper. Some passengers simply gaze absentmindedly into the murky, undefined depths of the night. Heads nod in fitful slumber as many passengers succumb to the lullaby rhythm of the rails.

And then suddenly a fit of commotion snaps slumbering passengers to full alert. There’s a shout. Passengers bolting out of their seats. Fingers pointing. Noses pressed against windows. Passengers jostle for position, trying to catch a glimpse out of one side of the railcar.

Because outside, as the train rounds a bend, suddenly it’s as if the sun was making an unauthorized nighttime appearance. The countryside is alight with a bright, warm-white glow. As the train draws closer, passengers can see that the source of the light is hundreds of tiny glass bulbs, each a self-contained electric light.

The startled passengers, while passing by Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park workshop, are privileged witnesses to the world’s first display of Christmas lights.

The World Has Never Been the Same

That first display of Christmas lights changed the holiday season forever.

In 1882, Edward H. Johnson, an associate of Edison’s, built upon Edison’s idea by creating the first string of colored electric Christmas lights. And in the early 1900s, electric Christmas lights began to be purchased in large quantities by America’s consumers.

Soon it became yearly tradition for neighborhoods nationwide to be set aglow with the Christmas displays of countless homeowners each holiday season.

Those weary rail passengers, the first drive-by spectators to view electric Christmas lights, were both startled and delighted. But though Christmas lights have become commonplace and certainly no longer startle, they never fail to delight. It’s a gift from a 19th century inventor that will continue to delight countless generations for ages to come.


This entry was posted on Sunday, October 4th, 2015 at 2:02 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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