During the years following the 1950 cutoff date of this web site, many new and innovative lighting outfits hit the market. The most significant of these, the "fairy" or miniature lights, debuted in the early 1950s and were to become the accepted form of Christmas lighting by the mid 1980s. They remain so to this day.
Another significant event had it's beginnings in December, 1958. Aluminum Specialty Company toy sales manager Tom Gannon had noticed a small, homemade all metal tree used as a display in a Ben Franklin Five and Dime store in Chicago, Illinois. He thought it was a wonderful idea, and presented it to his company in Manitowoc, Wisconsin right away. At the time, Manitowoc was known as the Aluminum Cookware Capital of the World, and the company president thought that Tom's idea was a splendid one. The design department sprang into action, and by Christmas of 1959, they offered the very first all-aluminum Christmas tree to a somewhat confused public. After a surprisingly busy first year of sales, the idea really took off, and by 1960 The Aluminum Specialty company had perfected their flagship tree: The Evergleam. Although the company records and archives have long since been lost, several estimates put the factory output at four million trees during their 10 year production time from 1959 to 1969.
The company never advertised their tree as artificial, but rather insisted that their offering was simply a "Permanent Tree". It had a sliver painted wooden trunk with a multitude of holes drilled in it at increasing angles, so that when each of the hand made branches of the same size was inserted into them, they would perch upwards, forming the traditional tree shape. Equipped with a simple aluminum tripod style stand, the trees were easy to set up and certainly caught one's eye.
As is almost always true with a successful product, imitators soon jumped on the bandwagon, and the market was flooded with a huge variety of aluminum wonders, not only in the original silver color, but now in gold, green, blue, a blue and green combination, a silver with blue tips and even pink!
Due to the extreme danger of using electric lights on the highly-conductive aluminum branches, rotating multicolored floodlights, called color wheels, were sold to illuminate the trees. A huge variety of these wheels were offered by all of the Christmas lighting and decoration companies.
Trees were offered for sale by most of the major Christmas lighting companies as well, including NOMA, Paramount and TIMCO. The heights of the silvery wonders ranged for a tiny one foot table top tree up to a 7 foot monster. There were even half trees produced for wall mounting in offices and stores. The variety was seemingly endless. Along with The Aluminum Specialty Company, other companies offering the glittery wonders included Star Brand Company in Portsmouth, Virginia, Regal Electronics in Chicago, Illinois, and Fairyland Trees in California.
But, just as quickly as their popularity soared, public interest in the trees started to fade, due in a major part to a popular television cartoon. The trees would soon be declared a symbol of the crass commercialism of Christmas, when, in December of 1965, the first airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas appeared on CBS. The American public seemed to take to heart the refusal of Charlie Brown to buy as his symbol of the Yuletide season "the biggest aluminum tree he could find, maybe even painted pink". As early as 1968, most companies no longer listed them in their catalogs.
Today, collectors will pay a high price for some of the less common trees, especially in the colors other than silver. The average selling price for a vintage silver-colored aluminum tree in good condition is about $15 per foot of height. Expect to pay a premium price for a pink tree, the rarest of all of the colors offered. Trees of any color that are especially full, or have the pom-pom branch ends will also command a premium price. In December, 2000 reproduction trees appeared on the market, and were surprisingly good sellers. Expect to see more of them offered in future years.
Meanwhile, on the Christmas Lighting SceneIncandescent lights continued to rule on the non-aluminum trees of course. But just selling lights for trees wasn't good enough for GE. In the 1950s, and through much of the 1970s, they started including pamphlets describing OTHER decorating projects to do with their light strands. Jeff Carter's online Christmas Lighting Guide Collection at Flickr, shows several examples, some of which are as memorable for the silliness of their suggestions as for their originality.
Note: OldChristmasTreeLights? and FamilyChristmasOnline? are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications? (www.btcomm.com).
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