The History of Christmas Lights

A black and white photo of a house decorated with Christmas lights.
From safety to spectacular, Christmas lights have a history.

The smell of freshly baked cookies, snow sparkling under the light of a full moon, houses decorated with twinkling lights—these are the sights and smells of the holidays. It is hard to imagine a day when houses were not decorated and lit with electric lights to illuminate the season.

The story of Christmas lights begins in 1871 and 24-year-old Thomas Edison, who had just been hired by Edward Hibberd Johnson at the Automatic Telegraph Company. Johnson was highly impressed with the intelligent, hardworking Edison. When Edison left to start the Edison Lamp Company, Johnson invested heavily in the company, which would focus on selling the newly invented electric light bulbs.

Johnson saw the dangers of fire with having lit candles on a Christmas tree, which was the common practice, and realized the safer alternative was electric lights. In 1894, President Grover Cleveland became the first President to put electric Christmas lights on the White House. The public was slow to invest in the costly new invention. In 1900, a string of 16 bulbs sold for $12, about $350 today. By 1914, a 16-foot string cost $1.75. By the 1930s, electric Christmas lights were everywhere.

Today, some homeowners take it a step further, heavily decorating their homes with lights and synchronizing them to music. If you’re interested in seeing some local light displays, visit prairielights.info for location information.

Carver County Historical Society
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