Bright, twinkling lights and holiday festivities make this month seem magical—almost electrifying. It only seems appropriate to feature the Quirkles’ Ellie Electricity and the concept of electricity and how it plays into the season.
If you celebrate Christmas, you know the beautifully lit Christmas tree in a big part of the holiday tradition. But do you know how electrical tree lights came to be? It might not be surprising that Thomas Edison, one of the most prolific inventors/scientists in recent history, had something to do with it. He created the very first strand of electric lights and during the Christmas season of 1880; these strands were strung around the outside of his Menlo Park Laboratory. Railroad passengers traveling by the laboratory got their first look at an electrical light display. But it would take almost forty years for electric Christmas lights to become the tradition that we are familiar with.
It was Edison’s right-hand man and business partner, Edward H. Johnson, who played an even bigger role. Before electric Christmas lights, families would use candles to light up their Christmas trees. This practice was often dangerous and led to many home fires and even deaths. Johnson put the very first string of electric Christmas tree lights together in 1882. He hand-wired 80 red, white, and blue light bulbs and wound them around his Christmas tree. Not only was the tree illuminated with electricity, it also revolved. It spun in a circle six times a minute on a little pine box as its lights flashed in “a continuous twinkling of dancing colors,” reported a newspaper. An electric current drawn from Edison’s main office powered the lights and the crank that rotated the tree. “I need not tell you that the scintillating evergreen was a pretty sight,” gushed a reporter. “One can hardly imagine anything prettier.”
However, the world was not quite ready for electrical illumination. There was a great mistrust of electricity and it would take many more years for the masses to decorate Christmas trees and homes with electric lights. Some credit President Grover Cleveland with spurring the acceptance of indoor electric Christmas lights. In 1895, President Cleveland requested that the White House family Christmas tree be illuminated by hundreds of multi-colored electric light bulbs.
Until 1903, when General Electric began to offer pre-assembled kits of Christmas lights, stringed lights were reserved for the wealthy and electrically savvy. The wiring of electric lights was very expensive and required the hiring of a wireman, a modern-day electrician. According to some, to light an average Christmas tree with electric lights before 1903 would have cost $2000 in today’s dollars!
By the 1940s, when electrification had become standard in rural America, electric lights had replaced wax candles on most Christmas trees, and the danger of trees bursting into flames had been replaced by the frustration of untangling Christmas light strands.
So as you sit in front of your beautifully lit Christmas tree, drink hot cocoa, and snuggle up with a good book like Ellie Electricity, remember how electricity plays a key role this holiday. Also, watch our video that uses an electric energy stick to illustrate making connections with those around you this season.
Whatever holiday you celebrate this month, we wish you great joy as you connect with those most special to you. Happy holidays from the Quirkles and Fuddlebrook team to you!