The History of the Outdoor Christmas Lights

It’s something we take for granted. Every year, as we drive down the street, we see houses covered with beautiful decorations and colorful Christmas lights strung up on the roof. Sure, we marvel at the beauty and creativity people express as they decorate their houses, but we forget that not long ago, this is a sight we would never see.

Edison's lab in Menlo Park where the first Christmas lights were hung.

When remembering the history of the Christmas lights, you have to travel back in time about 135 years. However, you don’t have to leave the state of New Jersey because Christmas lights were invented here.

In 1879, Thomas Edison—the father of modern electricity—created the first incandescent lightbulb that could burn longer than a few minutes. His, in fact, burned 13 hours straight. The next iterations of the bulb lasted an amazing 40 hours.

The next year, in 1880, Edison created a string of lights that he hung outside his laboratory in Menlo Park, which people could see as they passed by on the train. For most, it was the first time they’d ever seen artificial light. This was also credited as the first use of outdoor Christmas lights.

To be fair, Christmas decorations were not new. People would often decorate their Christmas trees inside the home, but since they didn’t have lightbulbs, they would use candles. As you can suspect, this resulted in countless fires. Two years after the first Christmas lights, Edison’s friend and partner, Edward Johnson was the first to put electric lights on his Christmas tree.

So the next time you see a decorated house—probably not too far from New Jersey’s Menlo Park—remember the unique history of the Christmas light.