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Then & Now: Holiday Lights

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Lighted trees and displays are a beloved holiday tradition. But a lot has changed since Edward Johnson, an associate of Thomas Edison, hand-wired the first string of lights for a tree in his home. Now, 80 million U.S. homes celebrate the season by decorating with electric holiday lights.

That first electrically lighted tree, in 1882, was adorned with 80 red, white and blue lights. Today, the landmark tree in New York City’s Rockefeller Center is decorated with more than 50,000 colorful bulbs.

It’s a good thing the price has dropped! In 1900 a string of holiday lights cost about $20 per bulb (in 2018 dollars). Today, a string of high-efficiency LED lights costs about 20 cents per bulb.

Technology has come a long way, too. The first blinking holiday lights were introduced in 1920. Now, you can see (and hear) homes decorated with complex computer-controlled light displays that are synchronized to holiday music.

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