What we would recognize as the first modern Christmas trees surfaced in 16th-century Germany, where trees in public buildings or guild houses were decorated with fruits and sweets, which the children picked off on Christmas Day.
The tree custom caught on slowly, and while legend has it that in 1777 a captured Hessian soldier made a Windsor Locks, Conn., prison cell the site of the nation’s first indoor Christmas tree, it wasn’t until 1851 that the first Christmas tree lot in the country appeared — in Manhattan, of all places, at the old Washington Market in present-day TriBeCa, where trees were quickly snapped up by New Yorkers.
Martin Luther is credited with being the first to decorate a tree with burning candles, but the big break for trees came with the advent of electricity. Thomas Edison, as good at marketing electricity as making it, sold the first Christmas tree lights. One can only imagine how hot those first bulbs must have burned.
An early article from The Times about the first Christmas tree lot (“Our Christmas Green: “Where It Grows, How It Reaches the New York Market, Varieties Used,” Dec. 16, 1880) is at the right, as is an article about one of the first trees with electric lights (“A Brilliant Christmas Tree — How an Electrician Amused His Children,” Dec. 27, 1884). Here are excerpts from the two articles, first the one from 1880, then the one from 1884:
“The business of supplying the market with Christmas trees and greens is comparatively a new enterprise in this country. It is only 29 years ago that Mark Carr, a jolly woodman, dwelling among the foot-hills of the Catskills, conceived the brilliant idea that New-York wanted Christmas trees, and he could make money by furnishing them. About two weeks before Christmas he drew two large shed-loads of these trees to the river with his oxen, and started with them to the Metropolis. Here he paid his silver dollar for the use of a strip of sidewalk on the corner of Greenwich and Vesey streets, and at once flung out his mountain novelties, which found buyers at good prices.”
“A pretty as well as novel Christmas tree was shown to a few friends by Mr. E. H. Johnson, President of the Edison Company for Electric Lighting, last evening in his residence, No 139 East Thirty-sixth-street. The tree was lighted by electricity, and children never beheld a brighter tree or one more highly colored than the children of Mr. Johnson when the current was turned and the tree began to revolve.”[Source:- newyork times]