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Thomas Edison credited with inventing Christmas lights

By Tom Jackson • Dec 24, 2018 at 11:00 AM

MILAN — If you enjoy looking at strands of colored Christmas lights on houses, you can thank a famous inventor born in Erie County.

You likely already know that Milan native Thomas Edison is credited with inventing the phonograph, the movie camera and the first practical electric light bulb, among many other inventions.

But did you know he also invented Christmas lights?

He did. That’s according to the Library of Congress. The Edison Birthplace Museum’s December 2018 email newsletter shared that fact with museum supporters.

The Library of Congress website has an “Everyday Mysteries” section which answers various questions, such as “Are black-eyed peas really peas?” and “Who invented the TV dinner?”

One of the questions it answers is “Who invented electric Christmas lights?”

The library’s answer: Thomas Edison and Edward Johnson (1880 & 1882) and Albert Sadacca (1917).

“Thomas Edison, the inventor of the first successful practical light bulb, created the very first strand of electric lights. During the Christmas season of 1880, these strands were strung around the outside of his Menlo Park Laboratory,” the library’s website states. “Railroad passengers traveling by the laboratory got their first look at an electrical light display. But it would take almost forty years for electric Christmas lights to become the tradition that we all know and love.”

Edison and Johnson created the first electric strands of light, while Sadacca in 1917, then a teenager, came up with the idea of selling brightly colored strands of Christmas lights at the family’s novelty lighting company.

The article also states Edison’s Illumination Company came up with the idea of putting Christmas lights on a tree.

“Before electric Christmas lights, families would use candles to light up their Christmas trees. This practice was often dangerous and led to many home fires. Edward H. Johnson put the very first string of electric Christmas tree lights together in 1882,” the article states.

“Johnson, Edison’s friend and partner in the Edison’s Illumination Company, hand-wired 80 red, white and blue light bulbs and wound them around his Christmas tree. Not only was the tree illuminated with electricity, it also revolved,” it stated.

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