History of Christmas Tree Lights: Who Invented Them?

It’s that time of year again! The month in which many people around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus by coming together with family and friends, enjoying Christmas songs and carolers, and shopping for gifts for their loved ones. Let’s not forget the tradition of chopping down and displaying your Christmas tree! Whether it’s fake or real, decorating the tree with lights and ornaments is probably a family tradition for many. Did you ever wonder who actually invented those Christmas tree lights that make your tree glisten and shine? How did the idea of lighting a tree even come about? Let’s explore some history of the very first Christmas trees, and who invented the lights we use to decorate with.



The First Idea of Christmas Tree Lights

For decades, Christmas trees have been a staple in many homes of families that celebrate Christmas. Germany was the first country to start the tradition during the 16th century. During this time, theologian Martin Luther, well known for starting the Protestant Reformation, wanted to duplicate the image of twinkling stars amongst evergreen trees. It is said that while working on a sermon on his walk home, he was mesmerized by the twinkling of stars in the sky surrounding evergreen trees. So, he went home and put lit candles on his family’s Christmas tree. This was the beginning of Christmas tree lights. Fast forward almost four centuries later, and the world replaces candles with electric Christmas tree lights.


Who Invented The First Electric Christmas Tree Lights?

The very first string of electric Christmas tree lights was invented by Edward Hibberd Johnson in 1882. Three years prior to this time, Thomas Edison unveiled the first practical commercial incandescent light. Johnson was an inventor and businessman who worked with Thomas Edison on various projects. In 1881, Johnson and Edison formed a partnership with the Edison Electric Lamp Company, known today as the General Electric Company (GE). 


Johnson’s debut of his string Christmas tree lights made headlines. The lights were made up of 80 red, white, and blue small light bulbs. During this time up until the early 1900’s, many homes still had Christmas trees lit with candles. This was because electricity wasn’t widely available yet. It wasn’t until 1925 that half of US homes had electricity. The people who did have electricity, and were wealthy, would pay as much as $300 for an electrician to light their tree with these electric lights. The price was high at this time because the bulbs on the trees did not have screw-in sockets yet, so someone had to individually wire each bulb on the string of lights. 


It wasn’t until 1903 that those with electricity were able to almost afford electric Christmas tree lights. The General Electric Company (GE) began selling strings of electric Christmas tree lights that featured pre-wired bulbs and a plug for a wall socket. The price point was $12, but because this was still pricey back then, department stores offered rentals for $1.50. 


Candle-lit trees caused many fire hazards back then, if you can imagine. The invention of electric Christmas tree lights greatly reduced Christmas tree fires when the majority of the US received electricity in 1940. Johnson’s electric Christmas tree lights provided a safer alternative for the holidays, as well as vibrant color and joy!