The aluminum Christmas Tree is one of the most enduring Retro Christmas icons; a space-age, whimsical, and anything-but-natural centerpiece that captures the upbeat look-to-the-future optimism of the fifties and sixties.
Aluminum Christmas trees are a true creation of the mid-century period. Originally manufactured by Chicago-based Modern Coatings, inc. in the mid-fifties, they hit a peak of popularity during the sixties and Wisconsin's Aluminum Specialty Company became the leading manufacturer, producing a veritable forest of more than a million aluminum trees between 1959 and 1969.
Just about every aspect of the original aluminum Christmas trees was new and exciting, including the fact that they were distinctly do-it-yourself decor. They came boxed and ready for assembly, each tree consisting of a metal or wooden trunk and pre-formed metal branches featuring lightweight aluminum foil needles. The center pole had angled holes drilled at regular intervals into which the branches were inserted.
The very idea of packing and unpacking the Christmas tree was an ultra-modern concept; for centuries the process of getting the holiday tree was a traditional event in and of itself. However the mass move to suburbia and the generally speedier pace of life in the 60s made the process of trekking through the forest, selecting the tree, chopping it down and hauling it home increasingly impractical for most families, and the streamlined approach of a reusable artificial tree was a welcome change for many.
However, while the advent of artificial trees introduced a new level of convenience in some ways, the original aluminum Christmas trees weren?t without challenges. Because the branches were made of metal, twining strings of lights around them was inviting a short circuit.
Inventive home decorators worked around this with the rotating color wheel, an ingenious device that illuminated the entire tree in a spectacular ever-changing variety of colors. A color wheel consists of a circle of transparent panes of glass or plastic in varying colors, set on an axis in front of an ordinary light bulb. When the device is plugged in, the wheel turns slowly and the light shines through it, bathing the immediate area in a flood of color.
The effect of a sparkly silver tree lit by a color wheel was remarkable and the combo kept aluminum Christmas trees extremely popular throughout the sixties. However in the early 1970s trends and tastes changed; real looking artificial trees became popular and most aluminum Christmas trees were relegated to attics, basements, and garage sales.
But in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a burgeoning interest in mid-century style and all things retro led a whole new generation to discover the magical, futuristic glamor of the aluminum tree. New and improved versions of this venerable holiday classic are available everywhere in every size, from petite tabletoppers to majestic showstoppers.
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