First Christmas Lights Were In New Jersey
Thomas Alva Edison was called “The Wizard Of Menlo Park.” And, the prolific inventor certainly wasn’t afraid to enhance his reputation through attention-getting stunts.
Edison created the incandescent light bulb in 1879. During the Christmas season of 1880, he assembled the first strand of Christmas lights. Edison promptly hung strings of the electric lights outside of his laboratory at 37 Christie Street in Menlo Park, New Jersey. A railroad line passed nearby, and commuters could marvel to his festive display, nightly. This 1880 “stunt” is credited as the first official outdoor Christmas lights display, separate from decorating a Christmas tree.
The first use of Christmas lights indoors, on a Christmas tree, is credited to Edward H. Johnson in 1882. Johnson was an Edison friend, and president of the company Thomas Edison had formed to light New York City. Mr. Johnson hand-wired 80 red, white and blue lights, and wound them around his tree. Further, his electrified tree rotated! It was quite the sensation in New York City, and across the nation through published reports.
However, it would be many years before electric lights would become tradition across the land. A string of Christmas lights, and the services of an electrician to install them, could only be afforded by the wealthy. Some “experts” say that until 1903, when General Electric started making pre-assembled Christmas light sets, lighting the average tree would have cost more than $2,000 in today’s money. For this reason, candles remained popular on Christmas trees, despite the fire risk, until the 1920s and 1930s.
Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park lab is operated as a museum, open to the public. However, at the moment, the site of the first Christmas lights display is closed for renovations.