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Thumbnail of Edward H. Johnson (source)
Edward H. Johnson
(4 Jan 1846 - 9 Sep 1917)

American electrical engineer and inventor who spent many years in various business projects with Thomas Edison, including being the vice-president of the Edison Electric Light Company.

Vintage New-York Times Logo




How an Electrician Amused His Children.

from an article in the New York Times (1884)

Christmas tree decorated with colored lights, set indoors in corner by window. B/W original colorized with help of
Edward H. Johnson's Christmas tree with strings of electric lamps (25 Dec 1882). (source)

A pretty as well as novel Christmas tree was shown to a few friends by Mr. E. H. Johnson, President of the Edison Company for Electric Lighting, last evening in his residence, No. 139 East Thirty-sixth-street. The tree was lighted by electricity, and children never beheld a brighter tree or one more highly colored than the children of Mr. Johnson when the current was turned and the the tree began to revolve. Mr. Johnson has been experimenting with house lighting by electricity for some time past, and he determined that his children should have a novel Christmas tree.

It stood about six feet high, in an upper room, last evening, and dazzled persons entering the room. There were 120 lights on the tree, with globes of different colors, while the light tinsel work and usual adornment of Christmas trees appeared to their best advantage in illuminating the tree. Mr. Johnson had placed a little Edison dynamo at the foot of the tree, which, by passing a current through from the large dynamo in the cellar of the house, converted it into a motor. By means of this motor the tree was made to revolve with a steady, regular motion. The lights were divided into six sets, one set of which was lighted at a time in front as the tree went round. By a simple devise of breaking and making connection through copper bands around the tree with corresponding buttons, the sets of lights were turned out and on at regular intervals as the tree turned around. The first combination was of pure white light, then, as the revolving tree severed the connection of the current that supplied it and made connection with a second set, red and white lights appeared. Then came yellow and white and other colors. Even combinations of the colors were made. By dividing the current from the large dynamo, Mr. Johnson could stop the motion of the tree without putting out the lights.

The mechanism by which the shifting of the lights is made has been patented by Mr. Johnson, who believes that its use will be invaluable in scenic effects. The changes can be made with clockwork regularity, while the field for combinations and effects is almost unlimited. There is no house in the city in which electrical lighting is put to more novel uses than in Mr. Johnson's. As one enters the parlor a bright grate fire attracts attention. On examination the discovery is made that it is of colored paper, which is never consumed, but under which electric lights are hidden. The brilliancy of the effect of the painting on a porcelain urn surprises the visitor. Inside the jar is an electric light. The brightness of the chandeliers and brackets is emphasized by means of the electric lights.

The house is the first in the city in which electric lights were supplied from a current generated in an isolated plant. The dynamo is in the cellar and makes so little noise that it can not be heard on the floor above. A small engine supplies the dynamo, and the steam after running the dynamo is used in heating the house. Mr. Johnson's experiments have proved most satisfactory in almost every respect and he has promised to make a connection with one or two of his neighbor's houses that they may also be lighted with electricity.

[Background: The long-standing tradition of using candles on a Christmas tree was both sentimentally popular but also dangerous as many house fires resulted. Thus, the use of a string of light bulbs to illuminate a Christmas tree had an important side benefit of increasing safety. Yet, in 1882, the idea was captivating, not because of safety, but because of the novelty of electric light. Thomas Edison's business associate, Edward H. Johnson, first decorated a Christmas tree in his own home with small electric light bulbs on 22 Dec 1882, just three years after Edison had invented a practical way to manufacture them. Johnson's glowing Christmas tree was visible through his home's windows, and caused a stream of people to pass by his house, intrigued by this new use of electricity. It was described in an article in 1882 by a Michigan newspaper reporter for the Detroit Post and Tribune. It was not until two years later that the local newpaper, the New York Times considered writing about the invention, but then only in a society column.]

Photo (not in original article) from source shown above. Original b/w photo colorized with help of Text from New York Times (27 Dec 1884), 5.

See also:

Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) ...(more by Sagan)

Albert Einstein: I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was “It won the fight!” ...(more by Einstein)

Richard Feynman: It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly. ...(more by Feynman)
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