The history of Christmas lights

1948_NOMA_catalog_saucer_replacements 1When you buy a mid-century home and start getting into the aesthetic, it’s almost inevitable that you will be attracted to vintage holiday decorations, too. Post-war Christmas decorations are (generally) cheap, cheerful, and plentiful. If you want to know more about them, my husband found a wonderful website that chronicles the history of vintage Christmas lights and features identifications guides, too.’s history vintage Christmas lights starts with info on celebrations before electricity … the site gives us a decade-by-decade look at lighting all the way through to the 50s heyday…. and, it features a detailed history of bubble lights and a detailed history of Noma Lights, the largest Christmas lighting company during the mid-century years.  Way fun.

A note: I’ve done a number of posts this season on “holiday” and “Christmas.” I most certainly don’t want to exclude other holidays, like Hannukah, which is also currently under way. It’s just that this blog is mostly about ‘what I know’ and as I was raised with Christmas, that’s the ground I tend to cover first. As the blog develops, I want to do more on other holidays … and I most certainly welcome reader suggestions. To be sure, No matter what your faith or philosophy, I wish you peace, love, safety, happiness.


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  1. helaine says

    Dear Pam,Thanx for the wishes as Hanukkah is well under to you and yours for a healthy Holiday and a happy healthy 2010! I love the site and enjoy all it has to offer!

  2. Kathie says

    I love bubble lights – they’re so magical and fun! I found bubble night lights a few years ago which I use year-round.

  3. Annie B. says

    I so love bubble lights; many happy memories of them. Great website, too. I ordered Moravian stars from this company and love the stars (no matter how hard they were to put together!!).

  4. MrsErinD says

    First let me say Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah to everyone! :O)

    Great site on the lights Pam!

    I have 2 questions for you all~

    I just got a vintage aluminum pom pom tree, 4 ft., it’s on the way, and I just read on that site that “due to the extreme danger of using electric lights on the highly conductive aluminum branches” that they used the color wheels.
    So question 1 ~ Is it dangerous to use new lights too?? I know the old lights were much hotter than the ones they make now, but they were talking about conductivity not heat. I was going to put colored lights, new, on the tree but I don’t want it to be dangerous, I would rather just skip the lights if it’s bad and get a color wheel next year. I also have a vintage star with lights for the top of the tree that Hubby is redoing taking out the vintage lights and restringing with new for safety, is that safe to put on? But I’ve seen pics on flickr of the alum. trees with lights on them so ???
    Question 2~ if it is okay to use new lights it occured to me, would you need the ones with the white wire/cord so it blends in to the tree more? I would think that the white would blend and the green would stand out, what do you all do??

    Thanks ahead of time for any help, I would love to have the lights on the tree but I want to be safe most of all! :O)

    • pam kueber says

      Hi MrsErinD, thanks for calling this to everyone’s attention. Your question is exactly the kind of question that each homeowner should direct at a bonafide expert/professional… Perhaps one place to start would be your local electric company… Readers, please take note to take precautions!

  5. midmodms says

    I love vintage Christmas decorations. I have a large collection of 60’s-70’s aluminum tree ornaments. The plastic kind that are hollow, with a window that shows a scene of some Christmasy kind. I haven’t thought of bubble lights yet but I fear they may be something else I’ll be driven to collect.

  6. atomicbowler-dave says

    I have to admit, I’ have been a bit puzzled about the light issue myself.
    We just couldn’t cough up the money this year for an aluminum tree and are still hoping for next year, but I pondered on the lights a dood deal.
    I’m a marine electrician, not a domestic electrician, and I do not pretend to advise.
    My main concern was that I’d mess up the aluminum foily branches with the light strings or light clips. I also thought of the aesthetics being cooler with simple shiny balls and a color wheel plus rotator base to get alll the trippy refractions and color shifts.
    I suppose that the heat from the bulbs might be more readily conducted by the aluminum to the wood doweling underneath.
    We presently have a green arificial tree with metal framing under the plastic green “foliage”. I’m not sure what difference would really exist between a conductor with bad insulation against an aluminum foil part and one against my wire substrate branch. right?
    I gotta say, I think it’s really just that a Disco Ball works by reflecting multicolored lights played on it as opposed to hung on it…

  7. atomicbowler-dave says

    What about this?
    There MUST be such a thing, MUST have been…MidCentury Atomic-style Menorah! Were/are there? I would sure love to see some pics! Anyone?

  8. MrsErinD says

    Okay, I talked to Hubby, he’s not a professional but I consider him pretty knowledgeable and experience with this stuff.

    He said no you should not use lights on an aluminum tree, because aluminum is a good conducter, and the tree is all aluminum, it’s like a big bare wire, so if you have a short or frayed wire etc. it would be dangerous, it would conduct the electricity and be a fire and shock hazard.
    He said you could do fiber optic lights, because the electricity is in the base of them, not through them, or of course the color wheel, but no electric, led etc. lights.
    Also, Hubby is very wary of old motors, we always replace old clock motors with battery movement. So he said that it’s better to buy a new reproduction color wheel, he wouldn’t trust the old ones. You have to be careful with old lights too sadly.

    Just wanted to let you know what I found out, apparently aluminum is a very good conductor, eek!

    • pam kueber says

      MrsErinD, I do not normally let “advice” of this sort onto the blog – when it comes to environmental and safety issues I always want folks to do their own homework including consulting with their own pros/experts regarding the particulars of their home. In this case, though, I think your husband provides mostly “warnings” so I will leave it up. I also tend to agree with others on the blog: Just use colored bulbs, these trees have enough going on that you don’t een need lights!

  9. gavin hastings says

    Mrs ED- I think you will find that you really don’t need ANY lights on an aluminum tree. Not everyone used a color-wheel and they did just fine.

    Most aluminum trees aren’t composed as “branches”-so I think that no matter what color wire lights used…might detract from the simplicity of such a modern tree.

    This is one of those “won’t know until I see it” situations. Best wishes for the Holidays!

  10. MrsErinD says

    Oh, I totally understand Pam, no problem, I will keep that in mind.
    I just wanted to let you know that my Hubby echoed what they said on that site about the lights.

    Gavin and Pam, I agree, after reading it wasn’t safe to use lights, I thought yes they are so pretty already all they need is some ornaments and too much would detract from them. Thanks.

  11. Chris says

    I have a bunch of outdoor Christmas blowmolds from the early 60’s that were my grandfathers and I currently have them on display outside my home. It gives it a nice classic touch.

  12. nina462 says

    Thanks! Well, I just helped my Mom decorate her tree last night. As usual, we put up the blue star at the top. It’s from Mom & Dad’s first Christmas together (1954). It no longer works, but we MUST put that star up (along with a few blue balls from the original tree). That Star is in their will…it goes to my brother. Dad has been gone for a while now, but that star symbolizes 50 years of love!
    Thanks again for the link!

  13. Rhonda DeBough says

    Love your site Pam. Here is a must read if you haven’t already.
    Merry Christmas
    Karal Ann Marling

    A nice look at the season.

    Just bought my 50’s house 3 months ago. I am looking forward to a very fun 2010 playing with it. Thanks for all this eye candy!

  14. says

    I love bubble lights. Though I don’t remember having any in the house during my childhood, my husband said his parents had them. We’ve never had any for our tree, but we have had the nightlight versions, which are just as fun.

    “The plastic kind that are hollow, with a window that shows a scene of some Christmasy kind.”

    I remember those! The ones my parents had were very jewel tone. I’ve seen a few here and there for sale, but they haven’t been the same scenes as the ones from my childhood. We had a reindeer scene, a nativity, santa…

    Cool website. I can’t wait to look around a bit more.

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