By Sam Steingraeber
Being in the middle of the holiday season and living in the Coulee Region, one of the major events I cannot wait for is Rotary Lights and the amazing light show that is put on every year in Riverside Park. This brilliant extravaganza of lights would not be possible without the invention and improvements of the electric lights used to light up the park. The NOMA Company was one company that pushed the envelope for Christmas lights. The La Crosse County Historical Society has a set of NOMA lights in its collection that were used to light up Christmas trees during the 1950s.
The first time electric lights that were used on a Christmas tree to celebrate the season was in 1882 by Edward Hibberd Johnson. Johnson at the time was the vice president of the Edison Illuminating Company. Johnson had a very impressive Christmas tree set-up that year, with 80 bulbs lighting up a tree that was set to rotate six times a minute. Before electric lights became common place in the 1930s, people would use candles to light up their trees. This was a major fire hazard and often led to house fires. General Electric created strands of lights that consisted of a string of 8 light sockets; they were very expensive and therefore unavailable to most people.
Some of the first wide-spread Christmas lights that were affordable, and therefore used by the public, were made by the National Outfit Manufacturer’s Association, or NOMA for short. NOMA was founded in 1925 in New York City and was a trade group made of 13 to 15 smaller manufactures who were trying to grow by combining their marketing and buying power. Shortly after, in 1926, the businesses in the association agreed to merge into one company named NOMA Electric Corporation. They quickly became top sellers and innovators of electric Christmas lights. In 1934 NOVA rolled out parallel wired lights so that if one light broke or burned out it would not break the circuit and the rest of the lights would stay illuminated. In 1940 they used all rubber cords for insulation on their lights. NOMA was also credited with being the first company to manufacture bubble lights in 1946, and in 1951 they introduced fused safety plugs into their Christmas lights. The fuses in the plug protect the light’s wires and lowered the chance of the lights starting a fire.
This set of NOMA Company Safety Plug Christmas Lights includes a string of seven lights, with fasteners to hang them on a tree. There are also extra fuses for the plug in case a fuse blew out. The set appears used: two of the painted bulbs are missing, and there are bits of old pine needles in the box. But they have been carefully stored in their original colorful package that includes an endorsement from Santa himself, “For a safer and brighter Christmas.”
Now when you take a break from trying to untangle the unsolvable puzzle that is your collection of Christmas lights, you can appreciate the innovations that went into the string of lights causing your frustration.
This article was originally featured in the La Crosse Tribune.