Edward Hibberd Johnson

Biography

Edward Hibberd Johnson was born in 1846 and is famous for his work with Edison and for starting the trend of Christmas tree lights. Johnson was killed in 1917 in an electrical accident.

Johnson worked for William Jackson Palmer, and in 1867 they headed west from their hometown of Philadelphia. In 1871, as the assistant to General William J. Palmer, Johnson was sent East to manage the Automatic Telegraph Company, where he hired Thomas A. Edison, 24 at the time. When Edison left to create his 'invention factory' in Menlo Park, Johnson followed and became one of Edison's trusted executives. Johnson helped Edison earn money and start businesses with his inventions such as the phonograph and Edison's light bulb.

Christmas trees were just becoming popular, and a common decoration was candles around them, though they were a fire hazard. Johnson hand-wired 80 red, white, and blue bulbs and strung them around a tree on a revolving pedestal, then called a reporter. Each year he put more and more bulbs on, with 120 in 1884. At the time this was far too expensive for most people, but in 1894 President Cleveland put electric lights on the White House tree, and by 1914 they were relatively affordable. His publicity stunt transformed into a massively popular tradition.

Further Reading

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/untangling-history-christmas-lights-180961140/