Today in History: Dec. 22

Last evening I walked over beyond Fifth Avenue and called at the residence of Edward H. Johnson, vice-president of Edison’s electric company. There, at the rear of the beautiful parlors, was a large Christmas tree, presenting a most picturesque and uncanny aspect. It was brilliantly lighted with many colored globes about as large as an English walnut and was turning some six times a minute on a little pine box. There were eighty lights in all encased in these dainty glass eggs, and about equally divided between white, red and blue. As the tree turned, the colors alternated, all the lamps going out and being relit at every revolution. The result was a continuous twinkling of dancing colors, red, white and blue, all evening.—William Augustus Croffut, Detroit Post and Tribune, December 1882

Just three years after Thomas Edison and his team had successfully invented a method for manufacturing electric lights, a Vice President for his company, Edward Johnson, ordered a string of lights for the Christmas tree in his home.

The New York City newspapers of the time, accustomed to the Edison Company’s frequent press release promises that were not always followed by successes, did not send any reporters to visit Mr. Johnson’s holiday display. A reporter for the Detroit Post and Tribune, William Croffut, did pay a visit. (Croffut was important to Edison: he is the writer who is credited with calling Edison the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” which is where Edison’s lab was located.)

The tree, festooned with eighty bulbs and rotating on a platform powered by an electric motor, is seen above, in a photo from December 25 of that year.

Croffut continued:

I need not tell you that the scintillating evergreen was a pretty sight—one can hardly imagine anything prettier. The ceiling was crossed obliquely with two wires on which hung 28 more of the tiny lights; and all the lights and the fantastic tree itself with its starry fruit were kept going by the slight electric current brought from the main office on a filmy wire. The tree was kept revolving by a little hidden crank below the floor which was turned by electricity. It was a superb exhibition.

As more and more American homes became electrified between 1882 and the turn of the century, the practice of decorating Christmas trees with lights (families in Europe and America used tiny candles for many years before electricity became common, which must had led to many sad scenes) was transformed to the use of strings of electric lights.

And the Edison Company was ready: by 1901, the company was selling ready-made strings of lights specifically for the holiday season.

* * * *
Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune by Claude Debussy was performed for the first time on this date in 1894.

Leonard Bernstein conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra:

* * * *
American Airlines Flight 63, a Boeing 767 traveling from Paris, France, to Miami, Florida, was forced to land in Boston, Massachusetts, 15 years ago today when a passenger was discovered in the middle of an attempt to ignite explosives packed in his shoes. (The explosives were damp from being in his shoes and could not be ignited.) The passenger was charged and convicted with attempted homicide and is serving three consecutive life sentences and 110 years without parole.

* * * *
Samuel Beckett died on this date in 1989. Joe Strummer died on this date in 2002. Joe Cocker died two years ago today. Joe Cocker sings Randy Newman’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On”:

* * * *
Robin Gibb and Maurice Gibb were born on this date in 1949. Jean-Michel Basquiat was born on this date in 1960.

* * * *
Héctor Elizondo is 80 today. He is one of the great actors:

Steve Carlton is 72. Diane Sawyer is 71. Steve Garvey is 68. Rick Nielsen is 68. Jan Stephenson is 65. Susan Powter is 59 today.

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One comment

  1. rogershipp · December 22, 2016

    Thanks Mr. Edison and Mr. Johnson for the Christmas lights!


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