1950s Lighting Outfits,


The 1950s saw the beginning of the end of America's love/hate relationship with the ubiquitous C-6 series wired miniature base Christmas light bulb. The majority of American homes used this type of lighting string due to their very low cost, but the "if one goes out they all go out" characteristic could be unbelievably frustrating. Parallel wired C-7 lamp strings with their independent burning candelabra base lamps were much more popular now, but their high heat and the fact that most household electrical circuits could only support six strings of seven lamps on a tree was a decorating hindrance, and America was ready for something new in decorative Christmas lighting. This page will show some of the alternatives to the "standard" Christmas lights that Americans had grown up with...


Here is a hard to find set of Flik-A-Lites produced by the Shunt Lamp Corporation in about 1956. The set consists of 18 lights along with two ballast lamps shaped like stars. The set is wired so that half of the lights will flash on and off alternately with the other half, while the ballast lamps belonging to each half glow brighter and dimmer as the lights flash. Provided with the outfit were two extra ballast lamps. The bulbs are miniature base tubular shaped, and are colored with transparent lacquers in various colors. The lacquer type paints were not particularly durable, and scratched and peeled easily.


Here is an early example of what were first called "Fairy Lights". First produced in Italy by Sylvestri and other companies, the miniature light sets like these were the beginning of the solution to many of the problems that had frustrated Yuletide decorators for years. The tiny lamps, which drew little current, were offered in strings of 35 lamps, and contained shunt devices so that the failure of a lamp or two would not cause the entire string to go dark. The set pictured here is of Japanese manufacture, and a look at the close-up picture will show that the lamps were NOT replaceable in the string! Each tiny lamp was hand made, and then hard wired into the string. While the failure of one or two lamps was not a problem, when more than that began to fail it would hasten the death of the remaining lamps due to the steadily increasing voltage they were receiving. It was apparent that a way would have to be found to correct this serious design deficiency. Additionally, the hard wired lamps and extremely thin wiring used in these sets did not meet Underwriter's Laboratory testing standards, and the outfits were therefore not UL approved. Many retailers of the time would not sell non-approved outfits. The set is circa 1958.



Made in 1958, this set from Starer Displays Incorporated is another example of early "fairy light" technology. Carefully wrapped and boxed by Italian craftsman, this outfit has never been used. The lid has two labels on it, one saying "Small Lamps Are Original Phillips" and "Absolute Guaranty (SIC)". Another label tells us that the set was originally sold by Downer Hardware in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The high quality lamps are true colored glass rather than painted, and the outfit has an unusually large number of lights for its size-40. Despite the quality, it is not UL listed. UPDATE: I have just been informed by a kind website visitor that Downer Hardware is in business to this day!

Downer Hardware Inc
2629 N Downer Ave
Milwaukee  WI  53211



Here's the next step in the evolution of the "fairy lights". This Italian made set by Sylvestri uses slightly heavier gauge wires and protective plastic bases at the lamps to help with durability. But the lamps are still not replaceable, and also note that the lacquers used in coloring the lamps are flaking badly. These lights are from the Chris Cuff collection, and date to the very late 1950s.


Also from the collection of Chris Cuff, this set of fairy lights was made in Italy, and shows the dramatic change from the wildly colorful boxes Americans were used to. Instead of heavy cardboard, fold up flaps and extensive lists of features, the Italian lights were offered in plain-Jane type boxes, with little information or instructions. The set is not UL listed, and is a string of 35 permanently wired lamps. Late 1950s.


This set is from the collection of Chris Cuff, and is by Amico, a division of NOMA Lites. Made in 1958, the outfit is of Japanese manufacture, and has tulip style reflectors surrounding the permanently attached lamps.


Also from the collection of Chris Cuff, this set of Italian lights from Ferrari is from 1959 and retains both the original box and warranty card. This is a 35 light set with permanent lamps and clear flower type reflectors.


A typical 35 light Italian set from the late 1950s, featuring clear flower type reflectors and permanent lamps. Notice the two misspellings on the box cover: the lack of the word Italian being capitalized, and the "h" missing from the word Christmas. From the collection of Chris Cuff.


This outfit from Imperial has typical 1950s colored flower shaped shades, but includes a sliding green colored bead under each lamp to facilitate positioning on the tree branches. Formerly a NOMA held patent, their rights to it had long since expired and the invention was now open for all to use. This light set also uses the "new" screw base replaceable lamps,  which was beginning to be offered on the Italian-type lights. Instead of having to throw away the whole string of lights when the lamps failed, consumers could now easily replace burnt out lamps, just like in the "old days"!


Circa 1955, this NOMA "Safety Plug" outfit was quite an innovation for its time. The wall plug contained two fuses, which not only protected the string of lights, but also protected all additional light strings plugged into it. Most Christmas light sets today still use this "fuse in the plug" method of protecting the sets. NOMA introduced this method first, in 1951.


From the collection of David Neely, here is a house brand set of lights, made in Japan for Napco. These permanently wired lights are configured in two festoons, each with its own flashing ballast lamp. The two festoons flash on and off independently, for a twinkling effect. Strangely, the light set is called "TwinkleStar", but the shades over the lights are actually bell shaped. A most interesting outfit from the late 1950s.







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