bathimpact advent calendar, December 22nd 1882: Thomas Edison creates first string of Christmas lights

On a cold and snowy 22nd of December 1882, Thomas Edison cheers up every else’s mornings as he hangs up the very first string of electrical Christmas lights in front of his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey.

The event takes place just about a year after Edison had revolutionized the modern world with his invention of the incandescent bulb. His life long friend and co-inventor Edward H. Johnson became the president of Edison Company, an enterprise purposely created to illuminate New York City. The two were by then looking for a way to publicize their invention. The shining Light bulbs around the building were impressive, but it wasn’t quite enough to convince people that they were worth their life savings. It was Johnson who saw the upcoming seasonal festivities as a perfect opportunity for yet another one of his famous publicity stunts. And so, in the Christmas spirit that we all know and love, Johnson proceeded to replace wax candles with strings of over 80 tiny colorful light bulbs to light up a revolving Christmas tree in the comfort of his own home, as his children starred with wonder-struck eyes. The glowing red white and blue lights were an ideal picturesque sight of dancing colors, hard to miss from the streets of New York City. Johnson’s tree inevitably made the news, and received a glorious review from newspapers. The Detroit Post and Tribune published an article about it, in which the journalist happily affirmed that ‘one can hardly imagine anything prettier’.

About 8 years later, Edison and Johnson’s invention was mass-produced, and strings of Christmas lights were introduced in American households as a better and definitely safer way of decorating Christmas trees. Soon the Christmas tree lights were available to the world and became an essential addition to the Christmas celebrations. The novelty of these spectacular electric lights dazzled millions of people, and alternatively, avoided an immense number of house fires. Today many city councils follow in Edison’s footsteps and heighten the electricity bill every year as they bejewel every lamppost and corner shop with tiny blinking light bulbs. Indeed, Bath has never looked better.

So, we thank you Edison, and you Edward Johnson, because even if you were just trying to amuse your children with a few lights in a tree, you gave way to perhaps one of the most anticipated Christmas traditions of all. In fact most of us humble Impact writers have all temporarily left our quills, parchment and typewriters to go dress up our trees. Merry Christmas.

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