Edison’s Christmas Lights: The Spirit of Innovation Shines On


The magic and wonder of science and technology are never far from us, including at this festive time of year. For example, the next time you are bedazzled by the panoramic shimmer and glimmer of holiday lights this season, take a moment to remember the famous innovator who inspired the first Christmas lights: Thomas Edison. Yes, the man who gave the world the light bulb is also responsible for sparking the innovation that brings us so much beauty during the holidays, an achievement that leads me to ponder what it can also teach us about inspiring future innovators.

Edison´s contribution to those wondrous beacons of the holiday season is a poignant one. On a wintry night during the Christmas season of 1880 — just weeks after introducing his revolutionary invention of the first practical incandescent light — Edison, in a bold move to promote his new technology, wowed thousands of people in front of his Menlo Park lab with a live outdoor display of dozens of incandescent lamps strung together, creating the very first strand of electric lights. Two years later, Edison´s friend and associate, Edward Johnson, added a new twist. Johnson placed a string of about 80 miniature lights of various colors on an actual Christmas tree in his own home. His glowing, revolving Christmas tree was visible through his home’s windows, resulting in crowds of people — intrigued by this fascinating use of electricity — to pass by his residence.

This later sparked the mainstream commercial introduction of Christmas lights worldwide, aided by President Grover Cleveland who in 1895 had the White House family Christmas tree decorated with hundreds of multi-colored electric light bulbs, for the first time. (Before electric holiday lights, families used candles to illuminate their Christmas trees, however, this practice was dangerous and caused —> Read More