LIGHTING OUTFITS: 1940-1950,   page 2

The amazing bubble lights were THE lights to have during the end of the 1940s. Millions upon millions of them were made. "Invented" by Carl Otis in the late 1930s, NOMA was not able to produce them until the latter part of the 40s due to Wartime restrictions and materials shortages. The history of their invention is an interesting story-and a complicated one as well (which explains the quotes around the word invented):

In addition to looking at the information in this section, you can CLICK HERE to learn more about the history and invention of the bubbling Christmas light, and CLICK HERE for the bubbling light identification page.



In 1946, NOMA first marketed their soon-to-be-famous famous Bubble Lites in the book-type box pictured here.  Carl Otis, an accountant at Montgomery Ward, actually "invented" the bubbling light in 1938. He sold the rights to NOMA later that same year, but the Company was unable to market them until after the War, in 1946. Consisting of a glass tube filled with Bubble Glass Slug close-up.jpg (35943 bytes) methylene chloride and a plastic base that holds a light bulb in close contact with the tube, the units bubble merrily whenever heated. The chemical has such a low boiling point that it will even bubble from the heat of your hand or the sunlight entering through a window. The liquid in the tubes comes tinted in several colors, with purple being the rarest as it was only sold for the first three years of production. As shown in the close-up picture on the left, the earliest bubble lights have glass slugs within the tubes, to help activate and spread out the bubbles. Soon it was discovered that the slugs were not really needed, and after 1949 they were no longer used. Lights without the glass tubes, however, do tend to have larger and unevenly produced bubbles. Bubble Lites quickly became the best selling and most profitable Christmas lights of their day. CLICK HERE for a cutaway view of a 1948 production bubble lite, and  for a cutaway of the earlier NOMA prototype bubbler, CLICK HERE. Bubble 1946 NOMA book box outside.jpg (81844 bytes)
Outside of Box
Bubble 1946 NOMA Box inside flap
Inner Flap
Bubble 1946 NOMA book box inside.jpg (24658 bytes)
The Lights
Bubble 1946 NOMA Biscuit.jpg (28524 bytes)
Close-up of Bubble Lite


AN INTERESTING FACT:    Although not shown in the patent drawings, the NOMA biscuit style bubble light was originally intended to have an easily replaceable bulb. The top and bottom halves of the light were held together with metal clips, which allowed for disassembly. The bottom half of the biscuit which contained the lamp was actually made by The Matchless Electric Company, maker of the famous Matchless Stars. It is made of a very different plastic than NOMA used for the top half of the light. You'll easily be able to spot the difference-the Matchless plastic has a satin finish, while the NOMA plastic is quite shiny. In the pictures, the complete bubble light is missing its clips, and has been glued together by a previous owner. The other picture is a close up of the Matchless-produced bottom half with bulb. The Matchless plastic is of a much deeper color than is the NOMA material. The center picture is a cutaway view of the prototype NOMA bubbler.


By 1947, NOMA's Bubble Lites were THE thing to have for a properly decorated tree. Wisely, NOMA offered boxes of replacement lamps for existing light strings, advertising them a replacements for the "old style Christmas light"  and as "bubbling lights of incredible beauty". The box pictured above was meant to be sold as a complete set of 10 lamps, but often shopkeepers would put a box on a countertop and sell the lights individually for 15 to 25 cents each. Collectors call these lights "biscuits", due to the style of the base.  Bubble Replacement Box outside.jpg (32024 bytes)
Bubble Replacement Box inside.jpg (81602 bytes)


In 1948, NOMA chose to change the style of their bubblers, perhaps in an attempt to "modernize" them a bit, or it may have been to differentiate the shape from all of the NOMA competitors who shamelessly used similar "biscuit" base styles. Whatever the reason, NOMA decided on the saucer shape as pictured on the left. This design was extremely susceptible to heat damage due to the more confined space for the light bulb, and was discontinued once stock sold through in 1949. Most examples of this style of light show at least some warping from heat stress. All NOMA advertising showing the little boy with the Santa beard is 1948 or later. The image on the right is the replacement lights box, from the 1948 NOMA catalog. Bubbles NOMA 1948 Outside.jpg (66377 bytes)
1948 NOMA catalog saucer replacements.jpg (47018 bytes)


Beginning in 1948, NOMA marketed a multiple wired bubble light outfit as shown below left. Notice that the top part of the base of these lights uses the "saucer" from the series wired set above. Anticipating huge sales for the 1948 Christmas season, NOMA produced vast quantities of these saucers only to find out that they were not suitable for the series outfits. Stuck with a large inventory of saucer halves, the Company was quite inventive in using them all the way through the 1960s. In addition to using them with the multiple bubblers above, they were used with the decorative candle lights shown right. Notice that the candle pan is actually half of a saucer bubble housing. Later versions of this candle used slightly modified bases from re-tooled saucer molds

Bubble 1948 NOMA C-7 outside.jpg (30736 bytes) Bubble NOMA 1948 C-7 inside.jpg (22668 bytes) 1948 NOMA Candle ad.jpg (39145 bytes) NOMA Candle light.jpg (30105 bytes)


1949 was a pivotal year for NOMA. Shortly after their success with the Bubble Lites, other companies almost immediately issued their own versions of the popular lights. Some companies, like Paramount, circumvented the patents by using oil in their tubes while others blatantly challenged the patent by using the same methylene chloride that NOMA used. When the issue finally reached the courts, NOMA lost and the market was suddenly wide open for all.  Sticking with their original success, NOMA reissued the famous "biscuit" style lights, in the slightly modernized box as pictured below, left. The little girl  staring in wonderment at the bubbling light had changed her dress from a early 40s style blue outfit with stripes to a much more timely solid green dress. Her eyes had also mysteriously changed  color from blue to green to match her new outfit. 

To add to NOMA's troubles, one of their sets of bubble lights was accused of starting a fire, which tragically involved a fatality. NOMA and most other bubble light manufacturers immediately added a fire retardant chemical to their plastic. NOMA outfits that include this chemical are clearly and boldly marked with the UL approval information on the front cover of the box (see picture below, second from left). The chemical caused the premature breakdown of the plastic in the lights, making them useless within a few years. Lights showing this disintegration are shrunken and severely distorted (third picture from left), and are often found with a whitish coating that is often erroneously attributed to spray snow or heat damage. The lights illustrated below show the damage that was caused by the flame retardant. Note that since these lights are from 1949 and later, they do not contain the glass slug. After a few years, it was determined that the NOMA bubble light set was not the cause of the fire, and the chemical was no longer used in the manufacture of the lights. The picture to the right is of an ad NOMA strategically placed in the 1949 edition of the Fire Engineering Magazine, explaining the use of the new chemical.

Bubble NOMA 1949 UL outside.jpg (32833 bytes) Bubble NOMA 1949 UL closeup.gif (28530 bytes) Bubble 1949 NOMA Box inside.jpg (27259 bytes) Bubble NOMA Fire Retardant.jpg (22583 bytes) NOMA Safety Advertisement.jpg (128780 bytes)


1940-1950 continues...






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