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Christmas tree lights were an extravagance in early 1900s

World War I (1914-1918)World War II (1939-1945)

One of the first references to a decorated and electrically lit Christmas tree on display in Carroll County may be found in a history of the Westminster Woman's Club, which documents a Westminster Community Christmas Tree Lighting on Dec. 20, 1928, at the forks of West Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

It wasn't until 1927 that the general public had access to safe, weatherproof, outdoor lights, and a year later, Westminster flipped the switch.

Thirty years earlier, in the late 1890s, using electric lights to decorate Christmas trees and the windows of shops in the shopping districts was a new phenomenon in Carroll County.

Today, we simply take for granted having tangled strings of Christmas lights readily available for decorating the Christmas tree in the living room.

However, in the early 1900s, it could cost as much as $300 to fully light a Christmas tree — the equivalent of $2,000 in today's money. In the years between 1882 and World War I, only the rich and famous could afford the electric lights, and it was considered a great honor to be invited to a "Christmas tree party." To have electric lights on your Christmas tree was also considered an extravagant excess in the years before World War I.

General Electric introduced the first "pre-wired" strings of electric Christmas tree lights, called a "festoon," in 1903. They cost $12, which was approximately a week's pay for the average American worker at the time. An early tradition was to rent electric lights for your Christmas tree for about $1.50 per season.

Before then, Christmas lights were hand-wired in preparation to being placed upon a tree. This, more often than not, required the services of a "wireman."

According to an article in my files by the National Electrical Contractors Association, "few people were willing or even able to undertake the job of hand wiring all of the lights on the tree themselves. Electric socket outfits had not been invented, and it was a tedious task at best to wire all of the lights necessary to illuminate a room-sized tree."

For the most part, it was not until after World War II that homes were wired with electric wall outlets. Most homes were only wired for a single electric light that, often dangled from the center of the room.

According to one history of the 1936 Rural Electrification Act, "plug-connected appliances were expensive and uncommon." Most early electric appliances — and Christmas lights — had a screw-in electric plug, like that of a light bulb.

It was the development of Christmas lights that first introduced "the two parallel blade type plugs" for electric devices.

Best wishes for an illuminating and merry Christmas, from this well-grounded writer and all of us at The Eagle.

When he is not roaming the street looking at all the Christmas lights, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

One of the first references to a decorated and electrically lit Christmas tree on display in Carroll County may be found in a history of the Westminster Woman's Club, which documents a Westminster Community Christmas Tree Lighting on Dec. 20, 1928, at the forks of West Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Boston claims the first electrically-lit Christmas tree, in 1912, according to several accounts.

It wasn't until 1927 that the general public had access to safe, weatherproof, outdoor lights, and a year later Westminster flipped the switch.

Thirty years earlier, in the late 1890s, using electric lights to decorate Christmas trees and the windows of shops in the shopping districts was a new phenomenon in Carroll County.

Today, we simply take for granted having tangled strings of Christmas lights readily available for decorating the Christmas tree in the living room.

However, in the early 1900s, it could cost as much as $300 to fully light a Christmas tree — the equivalent of $2,000 in today's money. In the years between 1882 and World War I, only the rich and famous could afford the electric lights, and it was considered a great honor to be invited to a "Christmas tree party."

To have electric lights on your Christmas tree was also considered an extravagant excess — or a status symbol, whatever your point of view — in the years before World War I.

General Electric introduced the first "pre-wired" strings of electric Christmas tree lights, called a "festoon," in 1903. They cost $12, which was approximately a week's pay for the average American worker at the time. An early tradition was to rent electric lights for your Christmas tree for about $1.50 per season.

Before then, Christmas lights were hand-wired in preparation to being placed upon a tree. This, more often than not, required the services of a "wireman."

According to an article in my files by the National Electrical Contractors Association, "few people were willing or even able to undertake the job of hand wiring all of the lights on the tree themselves. Electric socket outfits had not been invented, and it was a tedious task at best to wire all of the lights necessary to illuminate a room-sized tree."

For the most part, it was not until after World War II that homes were wired with electric wall outlets. Most homes were only wired for a single electric light that, more often than not, dangled from the center of the room.

According to one history of the 1936 Rural Electrification Act, "plug-connected appliances were expensive and uncommon." Most early electric appliances — and Christmas lights — had a screw-in electric plug, like that of a light bulb.

It was the development of Christmas lights that first introduced "the two parallel blade type plugs" for electric devices.

Best wishes for an illuminating and merry Christmas, from this well-grounded writer and all of us at The Eagle.

When he is not roaming the street looking at all the Christmas lights, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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