In 1921, Lester Haft, an employee of the C.D. Wood Electric Company, filed a patent application for what he called simply "Lighting Set." In the patent, Lester described "new and useful improvements in Lighting Sets..."
Up until this time, standard series lighting outfits were commonly available in sets of 8, 16, 24 or 32 lights. An eight light set was barely enough to light a table top sized tree, while various numbers of lights were required to accommodate other tree sizes. Lighting dealers were encouraged to carry all four sizes in order to offer the widest variety to their customers. The sets were quite expensive, and it was a bit of an economic gamble for dealers to carry a big variety and risk having a large quantity remaining unsold at the end of the season.
A crude form of extension box had been
available for a few years which allowed sets to be adjusted for the
number of light strings connected to it, but it was not the most
practical of devices. The box allowed additional festoons of eight
lights each to be added by opening it up, and connecting wires to the
appropriate places. Here is a picture of a typical example, which is
made of heavy green glazed ceramic and was called a junction box:
As you can see, while the device did indeed allow for lighting sets to be expanded, it was quite a bit of trouble, and most people were so unfamiliar with electricity at the time that they were quite wary of attempting any electrical wiring modifications. In addition, the junction boxes were heavy, and made decorating the tree inconvenient at best. Needless to say, outfits equipped with junction boxes were not huge sellers.
C.D. Wood Electric was one of several companies involved in the manufacture of early electrical devices, and, seeking to improve the company's market share in the sale of Christmas lights, Haft, an employee of the company, hit upon the idea of incorporating a device to allow easy connectability between light sets to his company's outfits. Although several patents already existed covering products that allowed other electrical devices to be easily interconnected, no one had thought of applying them to Christmas lights until now.
On March 11, 1921, Haft applied for his patent, describing the use of existing styles of screw-in and bladed add-on connectors and their incorporation into a standard series-wired lighting string of eight sockets. The patent application was carefully worded so as to include almost all possible ways of wiring the sets using the connectors. The key to the filing was that for the first time, easy to use connectors would be incorporated into Christmas lighting strings. Here are some excerpts from the patent:
"What I claim as new, and desire to secure by Letters Patent, is--"
"A unitary Christmas tree lighting set comprising an attachment plug adapted to be inserted in a standard lamp socket, a plurality of miniature lamps connected together in series...and a complimentary attachment member adapted to receive the similar attachment plug of a second lighting set..."
"It will, of course, be understood that any of the ordinary forms of quick detachable connectors may be used in place of and as an equivalent for the screw attachment plug, and that when such other form of connector is used the proper complimentary connecting member is to be substituted for the threaded socket here shown and described by way of example."
Below are views of the entire patent
application filed by Lester Haft:
Quite suddenly, most of the existing forms of
plugs and sockets that allowed the interconnectability of electrical
devices would be covered by Haft's patent when used with Christmas
lighting strings. Needless to say, the filing of the application set
the entire industry a buzz. The C.D. Wood Company stood to profit
greatly from the situation should the patent be granted, as most
lighting dealers would be sure to appreciate the ability to carry a
single light string to satisfy all of their customer's needs. Some of
the smaller companies immediately agreed to license manufacturing
rights to the Haft patent, even though it had not yet been granted.
Other companies offered strings with connectors of their own, in
blatant defiance of Lester's filing. The M. Propp Company did not
immediately license the rights, but developed their own connector and
string combination they called "One-4-All". The C.D. Wood Company sold
connectors for incorporation into strings and called them "Tachons."
The next few years would be most important for
the Christmas lighting industry. The approval of Haft's patent would be
a complicated affair, as it basically incorporated devices already
manufactured and in use by other companies, but in this case with a
different application. Some companies challenged the filing, and it
would take more than three and a half years before the patent was
granted on October 21, 1924. Below are images of some advertisements
sponsored by a few companies using various forms of interconnecting
devices before the patent was granted:
The M. Propp Company challenged the patent almost as soon as it was granted, but subsequently lost in court. On July 28, 1925, Morris Propp, the founder of the company, applied for a patent on a new style of add-on adaptor he had invented, in an apparent last ditch attempt to work around the Haft patent.
The whole situation was becoming more
complicated, as by now, efforts were being made by a man named Joseph
Block and some others to band together some of the smaller companies
who were licensing the Haft patent rights into a trade
association. The Association would have greater purchasing and
competitive power, and could more effectively compete against the
larger companies. The Association was formed late in 1925, and
consisted of fifteen companies then in the business of manufacturing
Christmas lighting outfits, and all of them licensees of the Haft
patent. The members named their group N.O.M.A., which stood for
the National Outfit Manufacturers Association. All of these companies
included a cloth tag on their light strings, giving the patent
information. Here is a picture of one of the tags that was used:
1925 and 1926 were quite successful years for the N.O.M.A., and the Association, voted in 1926 to officially incorporate into one company, NOMA Electric Corporation. The Corporation started selling outfits under the NOMA name in 1927. By 1928, Morris Propp agreed to join the company, and surprisingly soon became its president. In a strange twist of fate, Propp's patent on his version of a connector would be granted in March of 1930, a full year after he became the president of the company he was formerly competing against.
Additional information and
research for this article has been kindly provided by Pat Fay
Note: OldChristmasTreeLights? and FamilyChristmasOnline? are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications? (www.btcomm.com).
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