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The Roaring Twenties


During the early years of this time period, the American Christmas lighting industry "found its own" so to speak. The public was now really beginning to embrace the idea of lighting their trees electrically, and as many more towns and cities were wired for electricity the variety of lighting outfits on the market grew dramatically.  The advertising efforts of Morris Propp, the founder of the M. Propp company were instrumental in bringing the idea of electric Christmas lights to the public's eye during this time. (See The Morris Propp Story also on this site.) Store shelves featured a mixture of both the leftover "old fashioned" carbon lamps and the new tungsten cone bulbs, but tungsten filament cone shaped lamps were the standard for the high quality sets by the late 20s. These series wired outfits (when one lamp burns out they all go out) were soon to be common in American homes.

Safety concerns brought about the formation of national standards for "decorative" lighting, which were overseen by the infant Underwriters Laboratories. By 1930, most homes were using the now-standard two bladed wall plugs, making decorating with electricity all the more convenient. The NOMA Electric Corporation, which was shortly to become the largest manufacturer of Christmas lighting in the world, was formed during the late 20s, changing forever the decorative lighting industry. (More details about the formation of NOMA can be found at The NOMA Story section of this site). Below and on the next several pages,  you'll find many examples of lighting outfits from this era, presented in the approximate order of their appearance on the market.


Outfits from the earliest part of this era can be exceedingly difficult for the collector to date accurately. The early 1920s were transitional years, and consumers were likely to see "old fashioned" carbon filament lamps sold alongside the new tungsten filament ones. All shapes of light bulbs were offered as well. As we move toward the latter half of this decade, most sets were offered with the smooth or textured cone C-6 miniature based lamps exclusively in their outfits.
Date Manufacturer  Notes Outside of Box Inside of Box
ca 1921 Rudges

Here is a most unusual outfit, consisting of only seven series wired candle shaped holders and American-made clear glass carbon lamps. Prior to this discovery, this collector had never seen a seven light series wired outfit designed for operation on 110-120 volts. The set works perfectly, and the lamps operate with proper brightness. There have been no repairs whatsoever to the cord, so the possibility of a previous owner having removed a defective socket can be eliminated. The seven section insert is original to the box as well.

1921 Owl Flashlight Company

A very colorful box contains a typical-for-the-times set of smooth cone miniature base lamps. However, the inner flap of this outfit contains a wealth of information useful to the collector. First, it identifies the Bryant-Owl festoon as original to the box. Secondly, the nomenclature leads to the assumption that bladed connectors were not yet used as wall plugs, but only as interconnecting devices for things like Christmas lights. No mention is made of the Haft patent which would have covered these lights if made after 1921. Smooth cone GE MAZDA lamps were introduced in 1919Since the picture of the lamps on the flap shows smooth cones, this dates the set to the years 1919-192, a rare opportunity for a collector to pinpoint a set so closely.1

ca 1921 USALITE

Here is an outfit that is an example of late use of carbon filament lamps. It is presented in a box similar to the one pictured directly below, but was marketed under USALite's Bluebird brand name. A close-up of the box label appears below.

ca 1922 Five Seas Trading

Here is an unusual outfit, courtesy of Rob Runge. This is a rare outfit from Louis Szel's Five Seas Trading Company. Szel was a pioneer in the early Christmas lighting industry, concentrating mainly on importing lamps from Germany and Austria. This is only one of three outfits this collector has seen, and features unusual ground-glass covered composition sockets, an effort to simulate snow. The outfit originally included German twisted lamps, but now has later GE C-6 cone type lamps from the 1950s. Many of the sockets still retain their original soft copper positioning strips, an aid to fastening the sockets on the tree branches. Szel was later to become one of the founders of the famous NOMA Electric Corporation.

ca 1922 Five Seas Trading

Another outfit from Five Seas, this time with the proper carbon filament lamps installed.

ca 1922 USALITE

An interesting set that uses an early form of the Tatchon connector to facilitate the addition of more lights. The lamps are tungsten filament examples with an exhaust tip. This set is an example a late use of this style of lamp.

ca 1921 Triangle

From the Triangle Electro Trading Company comes this outfit using the "new" smooth cone lamp style. The box is rather plain, but the outfit does include an early Inspector's Tag, promoting the quality of the outfit.

ca 1924 Franco

This outfit contains 8 smooth cone carbon filament General Electric lamps. Carbon filaments are exceedingly rare in American made smooth cone lamps, and were offered only during the two or three years when GE was sponsoring the transition from carbon filaments to tungsten filaments in their Christmas lamps. (The Japanese manufactured smooth cone carbons for a period of about eight years or so in the 1920s.)  The outfit retains its original lamps, and even has the cover cap for the end of cord add-on connector. Note that the lamp colors are not duplicated within the string, and include an uncommon shade of yellow as well as pink and purple. The box art suggests other uses for this "Yere Round" set, which include Porch Parties, the 4th of July, Lawn Parties Halloween and House Parties.

ca 1923 Tree Light

Despite the fact that the cover and inner flap of this very hard to find outfit declare that the "Tree Light" brand is a trade mark, this collector can find no evidence of the mark ever being registered. The cord is unmarked as to maker, and the outfit contains eight smooth cone carbon filament Japanese lamps. The outfit also includes an extension socket. The ends of the box state that the set is American made and the model number is 2X. The American made nomenclature refers to the cord set only, not the lamps.

ca 1923 Yale

This Yale Brand outfit originally included eight German pine cone lamps and an eight socket string with porcelain sockets. The set is now equipped with Japanese pinecone lamps, most likely later replacements. This seems to be a late use of ceramic socket material, as by the time this set was offered, composition was in widespread use for festoon construction. This may also be an example of the use of leftover stock, as the Yale Electric Corporation was a later incarnation of the Interstate Novelty Company, an early and prolific manufacturer of Christmas lighting outfits.

ca 1923 Decorative Products Corporation, a division of Haupt, Incorporated

Another late use of materials, this outfit included an old fashioned junction box, rather than a Tatchon-type connector. Also included were older carbon filament lamps.

ca 1923  Messervey's

This outfit demonstrates an early use of tungsten pine cone shaped lamps that were hand painted. Messervey's also operated across the Canadian border. The company mainly distributed figural lights, and was not in business very long. The box art used on their containers was quite "generic", and can be found on later boxes by other manufacturers as well.

ca 1923 Messervey's

Here is a set of figural lights from Messervey's of Buffalo, New York. These lamps were the company's main product during their short period of operation. The set includes a Santa Claus figure, a snowman, banana, bulldog on a ball, a frog, a man smoking a pipe, a pear and a fish.

ca 1923 Propp

This set is extremely rare. A very early "multiple wired" outfit, the set contains 7 candelabra based 120 volt lamps with carbon filaments. These lamps burn at a very high temperature, which makes them a bit too dangerous to be effective Christmas lights. Despite the advantage of independently burning lamps, sets of this type were not big sellers. Multiple wired outfits did not become popular until later, when in 1927 GE developed lamps that used coiled tungsten filaments which burned at a far lower temperature. 

ca 1923 Propp This Propp set includes figural lamps from Japan, including (from left to right): a monkey, fish, strawberry, pine cone, banana, frog, Santa, and a dove. All these lamps have carbon filaments. The red sockets on the festoon are quite rare and are not often seen.
ca 1924 Propp A classic outfit by Propp, by far the most prolific early lighting manufacturer of this time period before the formation of NOMA Electric. Note the use of the Propp brand One-4-All connector, complete with screw on cover. This is the standard series wired miniature base outfit. Variations of this box can be found with a green or yellow border around the cover art. Propp offered many different lighting outfits in variations of this classic box, some of which included less expensive cords or imported lamps.
ca 1924 USALITE This is a late use of carbon lamps, probably to get rid of old stock.
ca 1924 Monowatt This is an unusual light set that includes a set of eight cardboard glitter-covered reflectors, used to increase the brilliancy of the electric lights.
ca 1924 Rainbow Electrical Mfg. Co. A very rare find, this circa 1924 outfit from Rainbowlites is in absolutely mint condition and has never even been taken out of the box. The cord is still factory wrapped, and all of the smooth cone Mazda light bulbs are original to the outfit. The set is in the best condition of any on this site. The lights were found in a packed shipping box, ready to mail, in the far back of a local department store's attic. For some reason, it was never mailed, and has been protected in the shipping box ever since. The festoon has the unusual red sockets that are not commonly found.
ca 1924 Owl Electric A typical inexpensive set of series wired miniature base lights in a colorful box.
ca 1924 Onyx Electric This outfit comes with pinecone lamps from Germany.    
ca 1924 Monowatt Circa 1924, this interesting outfit uses Japanese carbon filament lamps and has a picture of a Lionel train on the box cover. It is unusual for one company to advertise the product of another company on their own box, and this is the only example of such a practice I've found on Christmas lights.


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