Can anyone look at a sparkly aluminum Christmas tree and remain in a cranky, spirit-free mood? More and more, vintage silver trees are being pulled out of attics and are glittering anew in the homes of MId Century Modern fans. These days, finding a pristine one is akin to finding an original unmarred Jeré wall sculpture or a chip-free set of Russel Wright tableware.
This makes me laugh, because growing up in the 60’s I remember all too well my mother’s extreme dislike of aluminum trees; she was among the many who considered them garish, lowbrow and downright trailer park tacky. No aluminum tree would ever cross our doorstep!
Maybe that’s why the rebel in me loves them so much now. They’re loud, statement-making and over-the-top. And without this kind of decor, Christmas would be no fun at all. The glittery tree perfectly represents the exuberance, delight and anything-is-possible feeling of Christmas and, really, of the Mid Century Modern era in general. Isn’t it funny how the relics that come to symbolize an era are often its most tacky?
Truth be known, the aluminum tree was lowbrow from the get-go. It was originally invented by the Addis Brush Co., a toilet brush manufacturer. In the 1930’s, a clever, outside-the-box thinker at Addis realized that the same equipment and process used to manufacture toilet brushes could be used to make an artificial tree. Later, after WWII brilliance struck again at Addis, when the company used war-time advances in metal fabrication to create an entirely aluminum Christmas tree. Addis received the first patent for their silver tree in 1950, and soon after began marketing it as the “Silver Pine”.
But there was a bit of a hurdle to public acceptance of the Silver Pine. Being entirely metal, the trees couldn’t be strung and lit with the usual Christmas tree lights due to the fear (and lawsuit potential) of electric shock. So the Addis brain trust scored yet again with an odd yet highly popular replacement, a spotlight with a rotating color wheel. No longer would home decorators be stuck with tedious job of stringing lights on a tree. Now they could just plug in the wheel, place it beside their tree and sit back and watch it transform from silver to a rotating smorgasbord of holiday hues.
Throughout the 50’s and into the 60’s, the sparkly silver trees gained popularity, festooning living rooms at Christmas across America and spreading overseas, leading to numerous knock-offs of the original Silver Pine. Aluminum Christmas trees were eventually made in sizes from tabletop to towering and in a variety of colors as well, even pink.
But the changing taste of popular culture helped along by, strangely enough, Charles Shulz’s Peanuts gang lead to the decline of the aluminum tree. In the 1965 TV cartoon special “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, Charlie chooses a small real live tree to protest the commercialization of the holiday instead of the pink aluminum tree suggested by Lucy. After the airing of this special, sales of the aluminum tree began to slide. By the early 70’s most manufacturers had ended production.
THE ALUMINUM CHRISTMAS TREE BACK IN ITS HEYDAY:
ALUMINUM CHRISTMAS TREES SPARKLE AND SHINE AGAIN:
I just can’t help but post a few more photos of Thordis’ creative Christmas trees, even though they’re not aluminum.
NOW BACK TO ALUMINUM TREES!