Almanac: 1st electric Christmas lights

And now a page from our Sunday Morning Almanac: December 22nd, 1882, 131 years ago today . . . a day when it really did begin to look a lot like Christmas. 

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CBS News
 For it was in his home that evening that a Thomas Edison colleague named Edward Johnson turned on the world's first electric Christmas tree lights, captured in a photograph taken three days later (left). 

Until then, people had been lighting their trees with REAL candles . . . a practice whose hazards one would think should have been obvious. 

Indeed, safety was a selling point for the new lights from the beginning, but for years their relatively high cost limited their use to the well-off. 

In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge helped raise their profile when he lit the first National Christmas Tree decorated with 2,500 electric lights. 

Over the years, Christmas lights have became ever cheaper and more abundant . . . and no longer limited to just a single tree inside the home, as a drive down many a residential street will show. 

Not that setting up elaborate Christmas lights is an easy task -- the challenges were spoofed in the 1989 film "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," starring Chevy Chase.

Nowadays, versatile LED lights are outshining the old incandescent bulbs of Thomas Edison's time, and computer software is giving homeowners the power to stage ever more elaborate and over-the-top light shows.

Marty Slack, of Murray, Utah, made no apologies when our Bill Geist dropped by his house seven Christmases ago. "I think I'm beyond fanatic," Slack said. "I was a fanatic a few years ago."

His display boasted more than 10,000 feet of extension cords, and had people waiting in traffic jams of up to 45 minutes to get a glimpse of his handiwork.

"Hopefully it's creating some memories," he said. "They'll think about this years from now -- how fun it was to go see that house with all those lights."

The Christmas gift from Edward Johnson that keeps on giving.


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