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  • Writer's pictureDebora Ellen Blodgett

O Artificial Christmas Tree: A Brief History, 1878-1926

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

Tis’ the season for holiday decorations.  Have you trimmed your Christmas tree?


Historians agree that Christmas trees have a long history going back to the Middle Ages.  The popularity of the decorated Christmas tree in America was largely influenced by Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert.   



In 1848, an illustration appeared in a Christmas supplement to The Illustrated London News  that depicted “Christmas at Windsor Castle.”[1]  This illustration was reprinted in 1850 and appeared in the popular American publication Godey’s Magazine and Lady’s Book, without reference to Windsor Castle, and the illustration caption was changed to “The Christmas Tree.”[2]    No doubt these illustrations were inspirational and prompted replication in many homes.   




While many would prefer a natural tree, others may prefer an artificial tree.   You

may think that artificial trees are a fairly new innovation.  However, artificial trees were patented as early as 1878.


John G. Wolf of New York received a patent in 1878 for his invention “Improvement in Artificial Trees.”  This invention sought to provide illumination of the tree by gas.  The pipes which form the structure of the tree could be "ornamented to resemble the natural branches of a pine or fir tree."   This tree was intended for use as "substitute for ordinary Christmas-trees" or used by shopkeepers for advertising purposes.[3]   It is hard to imagine this tree looking anything like a natural tree, however, this invention sought to solve the issue of illuminating the tree by combining it with the tree structure.


Christmas trees were often illuminated by wax candles sitting in holders clipped to the tree branches.  Although electric Christmas lights were developed in 1882, many did not trust electricity and early lights were very expensive.[4]      As time went on, the cost of electric Christmas lights decreased and eventually these lights replaced wax candles as a method of tree illumination.


Artificial Christmas trees sought to fill a need for those who desired a tree that could be used each year, did not lose its needles, and reduced the possibility of catching on fire.




August Wengenroth of New York received a patent in 1882 for an "Imitation Christmas-Tree."  This invention  sought to provide a portable tree which had branches that were detachable and consisted of "wire covered with chenille, the ends of the branches having spirally-bent terminals and drip cups for the candles."[5]






Annus Hummel of Pennsylvania received a patent in 1899 for an artificial tree, "especially

adapted for use as a Christmas tree."  The object of this invention was to provide a simple and inexpensive tree that could be disassembled and stored.  This tree employed a series of sleeves which enabled a branch to be inserted into the sleeve.  It was intended that natural tree branches could be used.   The tree branches could be 'dressed or trimmed before fitting them into the small-sized sleeves... an advantage which will be readily appreciated by a person who is required to dress a tree because of the non-accessibility of the upper branches to the tree-dresser."   In addition, the description indicated "The tree may readily be dismantled by detaching the branches there-from,thus facilitating the distribution of presents with which the tree may be loaded..."[6]





In 1903, Arthur Zahl of Illinois received a patent for "Christmas Tree."  This Christmas tree had tubular sections in which artificial branches may be added or natural branches could be used. Once branches are added, the shape of the tree is formed.  The tree sat upon a rotary base which allowed for movement during display.[7]










In 1907, Mary Doty Berry of Connecticut received a patent for an artificial evergreen tree to be used at Christmas.  The object of this invention was to provide a tree comprised of "fireproof material so that all danger of its catching on fire is prevented."  The patent description did not specify what fireproof material was to be used. [8] 






An advertisement from 1909 illustrated an artificial tree that was 'fireproof, clean; lasts a lifetime."  The tree also had a self-adjusting stand and a self-playing chime.[9]


Whether a Christmas tree was natural or artificial, fire was a concern.   Trees were illuminated with wax candles or electric lights, both of which could cause fires.  Many artificial trees were advertised as fireproof, although it was not indicated what materials were used to create the fireproof status. The fireproof nature of the advertised tree was likely due to a fireproof material being added to the base of the tree structure or the materials from which the tree branches were made. Attaching lighted candles to these artifical branches may have been safer than a natural tree. However, it was probably an advertising stretch to call these early trees "fireproof."






Artificial Christmas trees were advertised for sale in newspapers such as the one depicted in  The Evening Star in December of 1910.[10]  The tree depicted appeared to be small, perhaps a tabletop version. However, given the price range from 5 cents to $1.00 each, it was likely that both tabletop and floor model trees were available from the retailer.








In 1911, Mary Crook of Nebraska received a patent for an "Artificial Christmas Tree."  The object of this invention was to provide an inexpensive tree that was fireproof in its construction. The description claimed this tree would “possess an advantage over the natural tree in that my artificial tree is absolutely fireproof.”[11]  The fireproof nature was accomplished by a fireproof material "arranged over said branches and trunk to simulate the bark of a tree." It was not disclosed what fireproof material was to be used.


A 1911 newspaper article reported "The artificial Christmas tree has come to stay, say men who deal in those things...The women of the household are credited with this reform movement...the artificial Christmas tree will not shed its needles and it cannot catch fire and burn...eliminating the waste energy of worry."[12]


An advertisement appearing in the Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog in 1923 illustrated an artificial Christmas tree and said "Preferred by Many to Regular Evergreens.  These trees are made of material which resembles the natural evergreen and does not shed.  Easy to put up and take down, branches merely folding in and occupying little space.  Artificial trees are getting more popular each year, very rapidly replacing the evergreen tree, and are cheaper in that they can be used season after season."[13]


The 1925 Montgomery Ward & Co. catalog featured an advertisement for artificial Christmas trees.  The advertisement said “Many people prefer these artificial Christmas Trees, as they leave no litter on the floor.  They cost very little more than a real tree and they last for years.  Can be easily folded up and put away in a small place.  The branches are a natural looking rich green.”  [14]



Elmer Root of Oregon was granted a patent in 1926 for an "Artificial Tree Trunk," particularly related to Christmas trees. The height of this tree could be varied to suit the size of the room in which it was placed.  The trunk could hold natural branches if desired.  In the description for this patent, the objectives stated that this invention sought to "eliminate the waste occasioned each year by cutting down young evergreen trees for Christmas trees and decorative purposes."  Another objective was to "make Christmas trees available in places where the use of trees are almost prohibitive, as, for example, in our prairie States."[15]


Only a handful of early patented artifical Christmas trees are examined here. Since their invention, artifical Christmas trees have remained a popular option for many during the holiday season. According to a recently published press release from the American Christmas Tree Association: "This year, 94 percent of consumers plan to display at least one Christmas tree in their home. 77 percent will display an artificial Christmas tree. When asked what they appreciated most about displaying an artificial Christmas tree, 65 percent of consumers listed easy set-up and take-down, and 49 percent listed easy maintenance as the primary reason for purchasing an artificial Christmas tree."[16]


Whether you choose to display an artifical Christmas tree or a natural tree, have joyous holiday season!




Sources


[1] “Christmas at Windsor Castle,” The Illustrated London News, Supplement to The Illustrated London News Christmas 1848, 23 December 1848, No. 349, Vol. XIII, HTML edition, archived, HathiTrust (https://babel.hathitrust.org : accessed 30 November 2023), p. 409.


[2] “The Christmas Tree,”  Godey’s Magazine and Lady’s Book, December 1850, HTML edition, archived, HathiTrust (https://babel.hathitrust.org : accessed 30 November 2023), p 321.

 

[3] "USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database," digital images, United States Patent and Trademark Office (https://www.uspto.gov/patents/search: accessed 30 November 2023), John G. Wolf, Artificial Tree, patent no. 202,085 (1878).

 

[4] "Trending: Who Invented Electric Christmas Lights?", Blog, TIMELESS, Stories from the Library of Congress, 12 December 2017, Library of Congress (https://blogs.loc.gov : accessed 3 December 2023).


[5]  "USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database," digital images, United States Patent and Trademark Office (https://www.uspto.gov/patents/search: accessed 30 November 2023), August Wengenroth, Imitation Christmas-Tree, patent no. 255,902 (1882).

 

[6]  "USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database," digital images, United States Patent and Trademark Office (https://www.uspto.gov/patents/search: accessed 3 December  2023), Annas Hummel, Artificial Tree Trunk, patent no. 632,121 (1889).

 

[7]  "USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database," digital images, United States Patent and Trademark Office (https://www.uspto.gov/patents/search: accessed 1 December  2023), Arthur Zahl, Christmas Tree, patent no. 735,010 (1903).

 

[8] "USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database," digital images, United States Patent and Trademark Office (https://www.uspto.gov/patents/search: accessed 1 December  2023), Mary Doty Berry, Tree, patent no. 849,363 (1907).

  

[9] "Advertisement," Eagle River Review, 3 December 1909, HTML edition, archived, Library of Congress (https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov : accessed 3 December 2023), image 9.

 

[10] “Advertisement, Artificial Christmas Tree,” The Evening Star, Washington DC, 16 December 1910, HTML edition, archived, Library of Congress (https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov : accessed 30 November 2023), p. 11.


[11] "USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database," digital images, United States Patent and Trademark Office (https://www.uspto.gov/patents/search: accessed 1 December  2023), Mary C. Crook, Artificial Christmas Tree, patent no. 994,248 (1911).

 

[12] "Artificial Christmas Trees," The Democratic Banner, 15 December 1911, HTML edition, archived, GenealogyBank (https://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 3 December 2023), p. 9.


[13] Catalog, Sears, Robuck and Company, 1923, HTML edition, archived, Google Books (https://www.google.com/books : accessed 3 December 2023), p. 578. 


[14] “Advertisement,”  Montgomery Ward & Co’s Fall and Winter Catalogue, 1925-26, HTML edition, archived, Google Books (https://books.google.com : accessed 1 December 2023), p. 350. 

  

[15] "USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database," digital images, United States Patent and Trademark Office (https://www.uspto.gov/patents/search: accessed 1 December  2023), Elmer L. Root, Artificial Tree Trunk, patent no. 1,577,873 (1926).


[16] "Deck the Halls and Embrace Christmas Tree Care and Maintenance this Holiday Season," American Christmas Tree Association (https://www.christmastreeassociation.org : accessed 9 December 2023), par. 3.


Additional Resources For More Information


Google Patents

See classification: A47G33/06 Artificial Christmas Tree


History : History of Christmas Trees


United States Patent and Trademark Office

See classification: A47G33/06 Artificial Christmas Tree




Copyright 2023 - Debora Ellen Blodgett






 




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