The holiday season is always a nostalgic time. Here at Pegasus Lighting, we sometimes like to get nostalgic about what we love – light!
Let’s take a magical journey back in time, to revisit some of the quirkiest, silliest, loveliest, and least-functional lights of years past. (If you think today’s cheap-o incandescent string lights are frustrating, just you wait…)
Back in the day (and by “the day” I mean a day in 1903) General Electric first offered pre-wired lighting outfits, making it possible to have a fancy, lighted Christmas tree at home. These first lights were very expensive, and department stores would rent them out to patrons for the holidays.
Here’s one of those early sets. The color on the glass envelopes comes from water soluble paint. They may have looked cheerful, but they burned at shockingly high temperatures that could cause serious injury.
These Ever Ready string lights from Japan are one of the first to use miniature-base flame lamps – voluptuous compared to the glass envelopes of later lights. The capricious carbon filaments of these lights made lumen outputs difficult to control.
Those rogue carbon filament lights were phased out in the 1920s, replaced by more reliable tungsten filament lamps. This one is a typical, inexpensive set from Owl.
These lights from Gacor were the first to offer a true twinkling effect, using a control box to randomly flash each of the 4 pairs of lights. Before this innovation, only an entire string of lights could flash off and on.
Matchless Stars debuted in the early ’30s – solid glass ornaments surrounding bright light bulbs. They didn’t sell well, as most people couldn’t afford such a luxurious novelty during the Depression.
These XL lights were part of a movement to solve the age-old problem of one burnt-out light bulb ruining the bunch. They contained a shunt device that kept the rest of the lights lit if just one went out. It technically worked, but was a practical failure because the remaining lamps received higher voltage, which shortened their lives.
1938 (A Big Year!)
Paramount was the first to put GE’s new candle-shaped light bulb into a boxed set.
And this rare set from Clemco uses T-4 light bulbs attached to plastic “candlesticks.”
Reliance also produced the now rare “ornament lights,” delicate hand-painted ornaments lit from the inside with 15-volt light bulbs. Sadly, these beautiful lamps only lasted for about a season. The silvering of the glass envelopes trapped heat, causing the lamps to lose vacuum seal and burn out.
NOMA sold many different variations of these snazzy bell lights, painted with various cartoons or fairy tale characters.
Sylvania was the first to introduce fluorescent string lights in glowing, soft pastel colors. They were about 2 1/2 times more expensive than standard incandescent lights, and didn’t sell well at all.
Bubble Lites, invented by Carl Otis and manufactured by NOMA were THE lights to have in the ’40s, and the craziest things I’ve ever seen. They consisted of a glass tube filled with tinted methyl chloride and a plastic base that held a light bulb in contact with the tube, heating the liquid and making it merrily bubble. Methyl chloride has such a low boiling point that it will bubble even in sunlight or with the heat of your hand.
In the ’50s we saw the first miniature Christmas lights similar to today’s ubiquitous lovlies. Back then, they were called “Fairy Lites.” In this particular set made in Japan, each light is hand made and hard-wired to the string.
With a new decade came more exotic and creative holiday lights. These unusual “Rainbow Wink-O-Lites” contain several small colored light bulbs within one frosted dome. The light bulbs flash independently, creating a rainbow effect. They didn’t stay on the market for long, because they were too delicate and burnt out too quickly.
These Italian lights from the ’60s were one of the first to offer push-in light bulbs, attempting to solve the problem of screw-in lights always working their way our of sockets.
GE first created their Satin Bright lamps, meant to be beautiful, even when unlit. The paint coating was quite thin and chipped too easily. They were discontinued in the mid-70’s.
So there you have it, a survey of the lights of Christmas past. A lot of fun, and a lot of failure. I wonder what people will think of this in 50 years…
If you’d like to learn more about these vintage holiday lights, your can visit this website.
Photo Credit: All images were found on OldChristmasTreeLights.com