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Tune in to the new podcast, Stories from the Village of Nothing Much, like easy listening but for fiction. If you've overdosed on bad news, we invite you into a world where the glimmers of goodness in everyday life are all around you. I'm Katherine Nicolai, and I'm an architect of cozy. Come spend some time where everyone is welcome and the default is kindness. Listen, relax, enjoy. Listen to stories from the Village of Nothing Much on the iHeart Radio app, Apple podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.


Hey, and welcome to The Shortstuff. I'm Josh. There's Chuck. Jerry's here, too. We're feeling all jingly and belly because this is the pre-Christmas short stuff, maybe the best short stuff of the year.


That's right. We want to thank Daniel Montgomery, listener, for sending this idea in. Indeed. As well as our various sources on this. This could have been 1,000 sources because this story is everywhere. But Saturday evening posts, LOC, FizzOrg, Smithsonian, 1,000bulbs. Com.


Yeah, I love.


That one. That's a good one.


Yeah. We're talking about the advent of Christmas lights, which are they came surprisingly quickly after the invention of the light bulb itself, after Edison invented the light bulb. It was actually in Edison a file, a guy named Edward H. Johnson, who was in Edison Circle, who came up with the idea of using these new electrical bulbs to decorate his Christmas tree.


That's right. Edward Johnson was an inventor and a businessman, and he actually hired Edison when Edison was about 24 years old because he was like, This kid is going places. They ended up working together for the rest of their lives in different ways. Johnson ended up as the VP of Edison Electric Light Company, which preceded Con Ed. Just three years after that light bulb came around, he said, You know what? It would look great on a Christmas tree and not burn it down like the live candles that they've been using in Germany is like an electric Christmas light.


Yes. Let's touch on those live candles. We've mentioned it before in some past Christmas extravaganza.


Oh, yeah.


But Martin Luther, the Protestant dude who is often given credit for coming up with the idea of putting candles on Christmas trees. Christmas trees are very, very old in the Teutonic area. They were introduced to the Victorians in England by Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband, who was from Germany.


That's right.


The Christmas tree itself wasn't all that old as a tradition by the time Edward Johnson put lights on the Christmas tree. But people had been putting open candles on their Christmas tree inside.


It's still just crazy to.


Think about. Yes. The fire hazard is just through the roof, right? Yeah. So his idea, as sketchy as electricity was back then, was an actual improvement as far as safety was concerned.


Yeah, there aren't many things that are more flammable than a two-week-old Christmas tree.


I know. You can just look at it and hear the sound.


Yeah, we collect them. Our friends all donate them to the camp, and we throw those things on the fire at the end of a big night. And it's scary and amazing how we're talking 15 foot flames up in the air.


I know, it's really thrilling. It's also scary.


It is scary. In fact, we did that when Hodgeman went camping with us at the camp on this last trip to Atlanta when he did a show here. And when I brought that tree out at the end of the night and threw it on, everyone else knows the deal. I think Hodgeman was a little bit like, What's going on down here in Georgia? Oh, really? What are you people doing here?


Were you looking at him and pointing and saying you?


No, he loved it, actually. Long story short, Edward Johnson lives at 136 East, 36th Street in New York, and he handwires a Christmas tree with 80 red, white, and blue lights. Apparently, they were egg-shaped, and the tree itself revolved. And as it revolved, the colors alternated. They would light up red, then light up white, or not all of them, but that section would light up red, then white, then blue.


As it spun. That's so cool. This guy knocked it out of the park. First try. Heck, yeah. Worked out pretty quickly, in part because he started calling reporters. But the Detroit Post-Tribune sent a reporter, a veteran even, not even a cub reporter, to go check this out because people were starting to line up on the street to peek through the window to see this Christmas tree in Edward Johnson's parlor. The veteran reporter, W. A. Crawford, wrote, this is a great quote, I'm just going to say the whole thing, okay?




It was brilliantly lighted with 80 lights and all encased in these dainty glass eggs, his words, and about equally divided between white, red, and blue. One can hardly imagine anything pretty clear. I love that quote.


I'm amazed that he was able to get these things to turn off and on as they rotated. I mean, in the early days of handwiring something like that, that's the most impressive thing to me.


Yeah, I'm not sure how to do that. It's hard enough as it is today. Yeah.


So should we take a break?


I think we should take a break, Chuck.


All right, we'll come right back and tell you where things went from there, right after this.


When Walter Isaacson set out to write his biography of Elon Musk, he believed he was taking on a world-changing figure.


That night, he was deciding whether or not to allow Starlink to be enabled to allow a sneak attack on Crimea.


What he got was a subject who also sowed chaos and conspiracy.


I'm thinking it's idiotic to buy Twitter because he doesn't have a fingertips feel for social, emotional, and networks.


And when I sat down with Isaacson five weeks ago, he told me how he captured it all.


They had cans of spray paint, and they're just putting big X's on machines. And it's almost like kids playing on the playground. Just choose them up left, right, and center. And then like, Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, he doesn't even remember it. Getting to bars doesn't excuse being a total of. But I want the reader to see it in action.


My name is Evan Ratliff, and this is Ayn Musk with Walter Isaacson. Join us in this four-part series as Isaacson breaks down how he captured a vivid portrait of a polarizing genius. Listen to Ayn Musk on the iHeart Radio app, Apple Podcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.


Tune in to the new podcast, Stories from the Village of Nothing Much, like Easy Listening but for fiction. If you've overdosed on bad news, we invite you into a world where the glimmers of goodness in everyday life are all around you. I'm Catherine Nicolai, and you might know me from the Bedtime Story podcast, Nothing Much Happens. I'm an architect of COSE, and I invite you to come spend some time where everyone is welcome and kindness is the default. When you tune in, you'll hear stories about bakeries and walks in the woods, a favorite booth at the diner on a blustery autumn day, cats and dogs and rescued goats and donkeys, old houses, bookshops, beaches where kites fly and pretty stones are found. I have so many stories to tell you, and they are all designed to help you feel good and feel connected to what is good in the world. Listen, relax, enjoy. Listen to stories from the Village of Nothing Much on the iHeart Radio app, Apple podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.


All right, so Johnson has lit up that first Christmas tree. Everyone is astounded. He immediately starts one-upping himself year by year. I think in 1884, the New York Times says there are now 120 bulbs. The tradition of one-upping yourself or even your neighbor, that started with the very first lit Christmas tree. All of a sudden in 1890, you can finally buy Christmas lights if you have a lot.


Of money. I mean, a lot of money. So a string of 16 Christmas lights that were available for sale in 1890 would have run you $375 in today's money, $12 back then. The average person made about $9 a week back then, at least according to 1,000bulbs. Com. So it was cost prohibitive. You had to be extraordinarily wealthy. Plus, you had some other obstacles to overcome. Your house might not be wired for electricity. So you needed a generator to run your Christmas lights. That cost, again, $375 for one 16-bulb string. You needed a professional wireman and electrician to come out and wire this stuff up for you because you should not be doing it yourself. I think there is an estimate from the Library of Congress that said lighting your Christmas tree around this time would have cost you about $2,000.


Yeah, that was in 193, and that's the year that GE started selling these pre-assembled kits. But like you said, a full tree, two grand. And also, not only was it expensive, but electricity was still new. And people at the time, early on in electricity were still a little freaked out by it and weren't sure it was super safe. So it's not like it spread like gangbusters right away. I think it was 1914 is when the light price really came down. It was still like 50 bucks in today's dollars, which ain't cheap, but more affordable than 375. So more and more people started buying them. And by the 1930s is when they became cheap enough to where they went.


Really mainstream. Yeah, by then, city councils, local communities, government buildings, they had enough money to adorn the town square by then. But it wasn't until the '30s that people started adding. They were affordable enough for the average home to deck out their own place or their own Christmas tree. But they caught on really quick, in part because in the 20s, I think, General Electric started sponsoring Christmas Light competitions. Yeah. Yeah. And then between the '30s and the '50s, people started buying more and more and more. And by the '50s was when you could go down the street and almost every house was lit with Christmas lights.


Yeah, in the '70s is when the mini white lights came out. And a lot of people went to those. We still use the white lights on our tree. I do half twinkle, half plain.


So tasteful.


And I like it. It's a nice looking tree. I do have a soft spot for colored light trees, especially the blues, but we don't use those ourselves. But I really like those as well.


Chuck, we do our whole house in blue lights, the outside. I know. It's amazing. It's so pretty. I'm so beloved of it.


You know who else did that?






Oh, yeah, that's right.


Yeah, Grace Lane was blue. For sure. I forgot about that. Yeah, Blue Light is nice at Christmas. I like it.


Yeah, my favorite, though, and I probably said this a hundred times by now, are the big fat, colored bulbs. Yeah. Those are hands down the best. They can bring me to my knees and make me weep with nostalgia every time I see them.


Is that what you use on your tree?




The big daddies?


Yeah. I mean, what else are you going to use?


What else are you going to use?




Know, I'm just teasing. I use the mini.


White ones. No, those are good, too. We did get a... I can't remember where we got it from, but it's like an artificial tree, the kind with flocking that's pre-lit, and that has the white lights installed. I'm quite sure Umi would be perfectly happy if we just left it with that. But I'm like, no, I need some fat bulbs to add those on.


You are not alone because apparently, 16 % of Americans, according to a today's homeowner survey from 2023, prefer the colored lights. 22% use the white, which I think is down. I think those were much more in fashion probably 15, 10, 15 years ago.


Oh, yeah?


I feel like the white lights used to be more popular.


I think they were a '90s thing?


Yeah, maybe. Yeah, I didn't notice that. I'm a '90s guy, though. Sure you are. Christmas tree lights don't use the most energy, but they definitely use extra energy. There's no getting around it. I think $7.8 billion per year is what people spend on them, and then they light them to the tune of 6.63 billion kilowatt hours, extra kilowatt hours.


So granted that's a 2011 statistic. It's probably gone way down since the advent of LED Christmas lights, which use way less power.


Yeah, I tried to find stats, and I did find some that were really low, but the one I found that was low was not a trustworthy thing. It was only for the month of December, and that discount's like, usually there's like a week on either side of December that people are lighting things up to.


Yeah, but suffice to say that back then before the LED lights, we, in the United States alone, used more electricity than countries like Tanzania and El Salvador used the entire year just to light our Christmas lights. And even that was just a small middling portion of the total electricity the United States uses. That same year in 2011, that 6.63 billion kilowatt hours to light Christmas lights represented just 0.2 % of America's total electricity usage.


Yeah, there you go. So light up your Christmas tree. Have a little fun for a month.


There you go. Especially if they're LED, right?


Yeah. And you know what? I want to shout out a friend of stuff you should know, comedian and actor and author, Casey Wilson, because Casey Wilson has six Christmas trees in her house. Wow! She's Christmas nuts, and they're beautiful and wonderful. She has one in her bedroom. She loves Christmas and Christmas trees. Casey is awesome. You should read her book, The wreckage of my presence. Nice.


Thanks a lot for that. That was a good way to point people. Yeah. Also, thanks again to Daniel Montgomery for sending this in. Everybody, Merry Christmas. We'll see you at the Christmas Special, Extravaganza coming up tomorrow, I think.


It should be.


I hope that the short stuff is out.


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