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A Brief History of Christmas Tree Lights

As Christmas approaches, millions of Americans will begin the annual tradition of pulling tangled snarls of lights out of their closets and draping them over roofs, across walls, and through the boughs of trees. The 135-year history of how these mass-produced novelty lights became a holiday fixture is a distinctly American Christmas tale.

Americans have lit up Christmas trees since the early 19th century—long before the invention of the modern light bulb. In those days, families would decorate trees in their living rooms and then attach burning candles to the branches. Unsurprisingly, this created a serious fire hazard. For safety reasons, families would gather around to light the candles one time each year for at most an hour, usually while standing by with pails of water and bags of sand to douse the flames if the display got out of hand. Still, accidents were so routine that by 1908, a group of American insurers began refusing to pay claims related to Christmas tree fires.

An illustration, circa 1858, of a family around a Christmas tree lit by candles.

In 1879, Thomas Edison had just perfected the world’s first practical light bulb and was in the middle of an all-out media blitz to bring attention to his new product. On New Year’s Eve, he drew thousands of people to his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, where, according to Forbes, he showed off his new invention with “a live outdoor display with dozens of incandescent lamps strung together”—what some call the world’s first string lights.

But Christmas and strings of electric light wouldn’t be tied together for three more years. On December 22, 1882, Edward H. Johnson—an impressively mustachioed inventor and vice president at the Edison Electric Light Company—set up a holiday-themed display in his Manhattan home to demonstrate the beauty of electric light: 80 twinkling red, white, and blue bulbs strung between the boughs of a large Christmas tree, which he mounted on a rotating platform in his living room.

A reporter from the Detroit Post & Tribune could barely contain his enthusiasm for the “fantastic tree with its starry fruit” and the novel lights “encased in these dainty glass eggs”—his old-timey way of describing the multicolored bulbs. “One could hardly imagine anything prettier,” he wrote.

The publicity stunt caught the country’s attention, and by 1890 General Electric had begun manufacturing electric Christmas lights. But in the early years, only the rich could afford them. To install the lights, you needed to buy a generator or battery to provide power, and then you needed to pay a trained “wireman” to individually wire each bulb. Decorating a house could cost as much as $300—about $9000 today. According to a dissertation on Christmas lights by Kerri Dean, the expensive lights became the “rage amongst the wealthy,” and “Christmas tree parties to show off the expensive electric lighted tree became exciting social events for children of high society.”

As technology improved, Christmas lights got cheaper and safer. The early versions burned so hot they could still cause fires, but technological advances began making the bulbs safer. In 1903, department stores began carrying pre-wired strings of eight lights for a hefty $12, more than $300 in today’s dollars. Families who couldn’t afford to buy a string of lights outright could rent one for the season for $1.50—about $40 today. By 1914, a string of lights cost just $1.75, and by the ‘20s Christmas lights were affordable for most Americans.

The White House played a major role in promoting the new trend nationally. In 1894, Grover Cleveland became the first president to celebrate Christmas with electric lights, likely to impress his two young daughters. The tree, according to The Wheeling Register, was “very beautifully trimmed and decorated with tiny parti-colored electric lamps in place of the old-time wax candles.” Cleveland’s display featured 100 multicolored bulbs—but it was dwarfed by Calvin Coolidge’s extravaganza of 3000 lights on Christmas of 1923.

But the Christmas light tradition owes most of its success to electric companies, who saw the holiday trend as an opportunity to sell lighting products. An undated pamphlet titled “All the World’s a Stage at Christmas and All the People on it are Lighting Prospects” pushed the idea that holiday light displays were the industry’s best sales pitch. “The world at Christmas time is the background for a gay, spectacular extravaganza,” the pamphlet declared, and on the Christmas stage “there are quantities of lamps to be sold, Christmas lighting equipment, wiring. There are kilowatt-hours to be sold. Lighting this stage is profitable business for the electrical industry.”

Just a few years after Coolidge’s tree, the Christmas light industry crowned its first king: the NOMA Electric Company, which would dominate the world of Christmas lights until the 1960s. Its founder, Albert Sadacca, picked an unfortunate time to start a novelty lighting business. But the Christmas light industry weathered the financial storm of the Great Depression through an aggressive advertising campaign that appealed to family, country, and “the importance of a properly celebrated Christmas in trying times such as these.” One 1930 ad in the Saturday Evening Post featured a little boy writing a letter that read “Dear Santy, Please come to our hous this time becos we have it lit up now so you can’t miss it enny more.” A 1932 NOMA catalogue assured that their designs “look right to the American eye” and “fit in with an American Christmas.”

The ad campaign worked, and the 1930s became a renaissance for funky Christmas light designs. NOMA produced lights in the shape of clowns, witches, and Santa Claus. Over the years, light designs changed with American taste. The ‘40s saw a craze of Bubble Lites, shaped like the candles families used to light their trees with. The heat from the bulb in each light would boil a liquid inside the candle-shaped plastic mold, causing the lights to flicker like real flame.

A family around a lighted Christmas tree, circa 1955.

In the ‘60s, the Christmas light industry looked on in dismay as Americans fell in love with aluminum trees, which are unfortunately good conductors of electricity. Faulty Christmas lights could charge aluminum trees with electricity and zap the next person to touch a branch. Since traditional string lights were potentially lethal on a metal tree, families switched to rotating color wheels instead. This, combined with stiff competition from foreign manufacturers, led NOMA to file for bankruptcy in 1966.

The classic mini light design—the familiar incandescent lights in tubular-shaped bulbs that come on perpetually tangled green wires—was first sold in 1970. They’ve dominated the Christmas light market until the recent rise of LED lights, which use between 80 and 90 percent less electricity and can cost 1 to 2 percent as much to power.

While Christmas tree lights have taken many forms over the past 135 years, the tradition of dragging a dead tree into our living room and setting it aglow has remained a strange fixture of American culture. Just thank Edward H. Johnson for cutting your risk of lighting your house on fire this year.

Article Provided By: MentalFloss

Design Lighting Group offers a large variety of lighting systems, Decorative Fixtures, Recessed/Track, Outdoor Lighting, LED Lighting, Antiques, and more. If you would like to discuss your lighting needs please do not hesitate to call us at 404-351-5010 or                                                               email us at

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Lighting Basics- The Right Bulb


Determining the right type of light bulb for your lighting needs can be utterly confusing.  With so many different types of lighting available to us today, how does one weed through the options? 

On top of the large variety of choices, this industry keeps evolving and the lighting technology continues to improve.  Many of last year’s advancements are already old news and there’s a new version on the market.  It takes a lot of effort to keep up with this light bulb evolution! Here’s a quick breakdown to get you started:

INCANDESCENT:  If you are a lover of the classics, the incandescent bulb may be your match.  Standard incandescent lighting is warm in color, easily dimmed, and looks great in almost any environment.  If you tend to lean towards warmer paint hues and finish materials, and prefer a softer lighting effect- incandescent lighting may be your favorite pick.  The struggle?   Higher wattage, traditional incandescent bulbs have been phased out due to energy regulations.  So- you won’t find your 100 watt or 75 watt standard version on the shelves any longer.  Some retailers still have a supply of 60 watt (or lower) incandescent bulbs.  The phase out of this old technology will eventually come to a close, however.  Then what?  That brings up the next bulb…

ECO-HALOGEN:  Do you enjoy the ease and flexibility of incandescent lighting, but need something a little stronger for high task areas?  Meet the new incandescent: Eco Halogen.  Eco-halogen is a newly designed version of the standard incandescent bulb.  In fact, some of you may have purchased this bulb version without even realizing it differed from the original, since the phase out of the standard incandescent bulb began.  The Eco Halogen bulb has the same silhouette of a standard A-19 light bulb, but instead of a filament inside, it houses an envelope of halogen or xenon gas within the bulb structure.  This Eco-friendly adaptation makes this bulb type 30% more efficient and longer lasting than it’s predecessor.  It also has a slightly higher Kelvin rating than the old incandescent version- which can make this bulb appear brighter and whiter to our naked eye.

LED:  It’s no secret- LED seems to be where the entire lighting industry is headed.  The most energy efficient of all light sources, LED technology has definitely changed the illumination game. No filaments or gas filled envelopes here- the energy emitting diodes that comprise an LED light bulb are teeny tiny microchips, in which an electrical current passes through to illuminate the source.  The result=visible light!  There is much confusion with this new technology, however.  The conversion LED light bulbs that are widely available now have a broad range of Lumen OutputsCRI Ratings, and Kelvin Temperatures within them.  It can be an uncomfortable amount of information to try and weed through on your own.  The plus side: you can have an LED bulb in almost any color of light you wish.

Article Provided By: Creative Lighting

Design Lighting Group offers a large variety of lighting systems, Decorative Fixtures, Recessed/Track, Outdoor Lighting, LED Lighting, Antiques, and more. If you would like to discuss your lighting needs please do not hesitate to call us at 404-351-5010 or                                                               email us at

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How Lighting Affects Productivity and Mood

Flick of a Switch: How Lighting Affects Productivity and Mood

Lighting — the good, the bad, and the ugly — can have a significant impact on your concentration and your productivity.

In fact, your overall feeling of health and well-being can change with just the flick of a switch.

Recent research highlighted by Philips Systems shows a significant link between light and circadian rhythms, otherwise known as the “built-in clocks” that determine your sleep cycle, stimulation, and relaxation.

Lighting has also been found to decrease depression and improve mood, energy, alertness, and productivity.

Given that a study conducted by the American Society of Interior Design revealed that 68 percent of employees complain about the lighting situation in their offices, how can businesses design their workspaces with lighting that delivers the optimal place for employees to think, create, and collaborate?

To learn more about the costs associated with not addressing lighting issues in the workplace, we turned to HOK, a top global design firm. Here are three examples of lighting projects HOK has designed that have provided lighting conducive for a productive workplace environment.

The Flexibility of Lighting Controls Affects Productivity

HOK transformed an abandoned 1930s power plant in Lansing, Michigan, into a new national headquarters for Accident Fund Holdings, Inc., in 2011.

There they installed lighting controls for individual workstations and shared multi-occupant stations. Natural daylight that flows through the building’s energy-efficient windows, which were also installed by HOK, allows electric lighting systems to be dimmed down.

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“We have found, based on the work that we have done, that control of an environment, whether it be lighting or temperature, helps people feel better about their perceived productivity,” said Emily Dunn, a senior consultant based in HOK’s New York office.  This lighting flexibility allows employees to create the atmosphere they need to be productive at work.

Daylight Enhances Human Performance

In collaboration with Dechert Law Office in Washington, D.C., HOK designed a flexible environment that allows attorneys to practice law more productively. The design firm used glass partitions for all offices and soft indirect lighting to “create airy volumes that blur the distinction between interior and perimeter space.”

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HOK also incorporated daylight features to help employees regulate their circadian rhythms. When these rhythms are offset, people experience stress, but a building that incorporates daylight can enhance human performance. In fact, a report by the World Green Building Council found that workers exposed to daylight are 18 percent more productive.

Lighting Design Depends on the Atmosphere You Want to Create

There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution to lighting in the workplace. According to HOK Lighting Director Tom Kaczkowski, lighting design “depends on the atmosphere that we are trying to create within the work environment.”

In King Abdullah University of Science and Technology’s case, the graduate-level research university in Saudi Arabia wanted its interior to promote innovation and creativity. HOK delivered by tailoring each space to its intended use.

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For example, the conference space was situated in a “shaded, passively cooled outdoor concourse” with a hint of sunlight to produce an inviting environment that keeps workers alert. The academic library, designated as a room to keep people relaxed, was fitted with warm lighting to instill a sense of comfort.

Smart organizations know that enhancing the performance of their people keeps companies growing and actively innovating. Thoughtful lighting design can be a powerful tool to increase employee performance. There are real costs associated with not addressing lighting issues at work and they could be fixed with the simple change of the bulb.

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Design Lighting Group offers a large variety of lighting systems, Decorative Fixtures, Recessed/Track, Outdoor Lighting, LED Lighting, Antiques, and more. If you would like to discuss your lighting needs please do not hesitate to call us at 404-351-5010 or                                                               email us at

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A Guide to Retail Lighting and Why it Matters

While the type of lighting you choose for your store may seem trivial, the reality is that customers will either feel welcomed into your store or turned off. These simple steps will ensure that you are on the right track for meeting your store’s lighting needs.

You’ve pored over every detail of your new business: You’ve created a business plan, worked up a marketing plan and devised an airtight budget. Now that you have checked all the boxes, it is time to focus on your business’s interior.

While it might not seem very important – one big component of planning your business’s layout is the lighting. While the type of lighting you install in your store may seem insignificant, it can actually make or break a customer’s shopping experience. The type of lighting you use affects the “feel” and mood of your store, so it is very important to get it right. For example, no one wants harsh, fluorescent lights in their dressing room, nor would you expect to see dim lighting in a bakery.

The following guide will help you understand different types of light bulbs, various kinds of lighting and the situations or businesses that they are appropriate for. It will also help you choose the best type of lighting for your business, taking into consideration your budget and merchandise.

Types of lightbulbs

There are four different types of light bulbs designed for indoor lighting: incandescent, halogen, fluorescent and LED. Each type of lightbulb has its place and pros and cons. Many business use combinations of light bulbs to achieve overall lighting for their store.


Incandescent light bulbs are typically inexpensive and emit a nice, warm light in all directions. However, they lack energy-saving properties, so they may hike your energy bill. They also have relatively short lifespans, so you may find yourself replacing them frequently, which is a hassle for any business owner.

Incandescent light bulbs are good for general lighting; however, due to the cons listed above, many business owners forgo incandescent lights in favor of more efficient bulbs

Editor’s Note: Need a POS system for your retail store? If you’re looking for information to help you choose the one that’s right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:


Halogen bulbs are the figurative big brother to incandescent light bulbs. Like standard incandescent light bulbs, halogen bulbs produce a soft glow in all directions. However, they use significantly less energy, so they are a more environmentally friendly option that will also soften your energy bill. Their biggest downside is that, like a standard incandescent, they have short life spans and cost more than a standard bulb.


Fluorescent light bulbs are cost-effective and long-lasting. On average, fluorescent bulbs last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. This saves you money and the hassle of constantly replacing your light bulbs. Since they are typically energy efficient as well, you will save money on your electric bill.

However, many people shy away from fluorescent bulbs because they tend to cast a harsh light and are not appropriate for many retail settings. Further, while the brightness of incandescent and halogen bulbs can be controlled from a switch panel, fluorescent lights have a set brightness that cannot be customized.


LED stands for light-emitting diode bulb. These versatile bulbs emit different colors of light while omitting directed light. These bulbs also deliver high performance in all situations; they brighten instantly even in extreme temperatures and can last for many years without needing to be replaced. The biggest downside of these bulbs is their higher-than-average price.

Types of lighting

There are four primary types of lighting to consider for your store: general, task, accent and decorative. As with light bulbs, you will most likely integrate a combination of different types of lighting to achieve the overall look you want for your business’s lighting. It will depend on the type of business you run and the feel that you are going for.

General lighting

General lighting, also called ambient lighting, is the main type of lighting that you use throughout your store. When choosing ambient lighting, it’s important to select a light source that illuminates your store so that it does not feel dim or gloomy but also doesn’t overlight the room, which can create a harsh feeling throughout your store.

When choosing ambient lighting, consider the type of business you operate. If you have a coffee shop, you don’t want harsh lights shining down on people while they enjoy their coffee or chat. If you own a toy store, you do not want customers struggling to see the merchandise.

Task lighting

As the name indicates, task lighting is mainly used in areas where you or your customers perform certain tasks. It is good to use task lighting near the entrance of your store, at checkout and in certain areas throughout the shop. It is a good idea to install task lighting after you have installed your general lighting so that you can more easily find the areas that you need to highlight with additional brightness or effect.

When setting up task lighting in your store, it is important to not overlight the area. Too much task lighting eliminates its effectiveness and minimizes the significance of the areas. It can also confuse customers and overstimulate their vision.

Accent lighting

Accent lighting can add special flair or “oomph” to specific areas in your store. For example, if you have jewelry or another product behind the counter, you can use accent lighting to highlight these products. Typically, store owners use spotlights or track lighting to highlight certain areas of their stores.

Be careful when using brighter lights in your store, however. Placing bright lights where they might shine in your customer’s eyes can cause problems and lead to customers leaving the store before buying anything.

Decorative lighting

Decorative lighting allows you to have a little fun. Unlike the other lighting sources listed above, decorative lighting is purely ornamental. Perhaps during the holiday season, you hang up strings of lights. While a strand of colored light bulbs doesn’t illuminate much throughout the store, it can go along way toward setting the tone or mood of your business. Other decorative lighting sources that are not seasonal include chandeliers, ornamental lamp shades, wall lights, etc.

Decorative lighting can give your store some much-needed personality; however, avoid overusing decorative light fixtures. Your store could look cluttered or, worse, the decorative pieces could cancel out the functional lighting.

Other considerations

While the type of business you run largely determines the types of lighting (and bulbs) you select, there are other things that you must consider: namely, your budget.

In an ideal world, you would be able to buy any type of lighting you want for your business, including a decorative crystal chandelier. The reality, however, is that when you are selecting lighting, you must consider the upfront costs of the light fixtures as well as the long-term maintenance they require and the energy bills that will accrue. Other things to analyze include the following:

Consider the long term

When choosing light bulbs, it might be tempting to select the cheapest option upfront. However, saving money now may cost you more down the line. Inexpensive incandescent light bulbs have to be replaced frequently. Not only that, but the U.S. and many other countries are phasing out these types of light bulbs because they are so inefficient.

Get a second opinion

There is nothing wrong with enjoying a sales pitch. However, do research on your own to determine if you are getting the best deal for your business. Even the most high-tech LED light bulbs (and the nicest line of track lights) may not be the best fit for your store.

Learn how to layer light

Layering different kinds of light will help you achieve the best look and mood for your store. Not only will it help you highlight different products in your storefront, but it also gives your store warmth and dimension. Layering light can be tricky. Before purchasing expensive lighting, talk to a professional about the best techniques for layering light. It might cost more upfront to consult with a professional, but in the long run, it’s important to get it right the first time.


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