Rhodri Marsden's Interesting Object: The Christmas tree light

The first electric Christmas tree lights were installed in the New York City home of Edward Hibberd Johnson this weekend in 1882

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The Independent Tech

* "I need not tell you that the scintillating evergreen was a pretty sight – one can hardly imagine anything prettier," wrote William Croffut in the Detroit Post & Tribune. He had just witnessed a display of the first electric Christmas tree lights, installed in the New York City home of Edward Hibberd Johnson, this weekend in 1882.

* Johnson, it's fair to say, had privileged access to the exciting new world of electric power; he was a colleague of Thomas Edison and his home was one of the first to have electricity supplied from a local plant. Christmas trees had only become popular in the previous couple of decades, and Edison had only invented a manufacturing method for bulbs some three years earlier. But Johnson's groundbreaking idea would give his kids a light show they'd never forget.

* The tree was six feet tall and was festooned with 120 red, white and blue lights, "about as large as an English walnut". They turned on and off as the tree slowly revolved; this was achieved via a connection to a dynamo in the cellar which, said a report in the New York Times, "makes so little noise that it cannot be heard on the floor above".

* Electric Christmas lights were much safer than candles – indeed, adverts for the new wonders featured slogans such as 'No danger! No smoke, smell or grease!'. But it took a while for them to catch on. President Grover Cleveland ordered some for the White House in 1895, but it wasn't until 1917, when one Albert Sadacca founded NOMA, a company dedicated to their manufacture, that they started to become commonplace.

* Edward Hibberd Johnson is now referred to as the Father of Electric Christmas Tree Lights; sadly we don't say "Let's get the Hibberds up", but maybe we should.

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