The Short Life—and Awesome Resurgence—of the Aluminum Christmas Tree

For a short window in the 1960s, aluminum Christmas trees gleamed in living rooms nationwide—but this glorious, glittering reign would be all too brief. Within the decade, they were relegated to the curb as aesthetic tastes shifted. But nostalgia has fueled an aluminum tree renaissance in recent years. Here's a brief history.

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN

The craze started in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, in 1959. As with all grand advances in civilization, the credit goes to those who made them commercially viable—and the Ford of the aluminum tree was the Aluminum Specialty Company, based in the small, blue-collar city on Lake Michigan.

According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, Tom Gannon, toy sales manager for the Aluminum Specialty Company, saw a metal tree in a store window during a visit to Chicago in 1958. Modern Coatings, Inc., had a patent on them, but its version was expensive and bulky. Gannon brought the idea back to his engineers, who made the trees cheaper—the price went from $75 to $85 down to $25—as well as easier to mass produce and easier to put up and break down. Aluminum Specialty took a gamble and produced hundreds of thousands for the following Christmas, eventually branding it the “Evergleam.”

Soon after, several aluminum manufacturers found themselves in the Christmas business, and the trees were everywhere, ranging from tabletop models to eight feet tall; silver was popular, but they came in a variety of colors. Trees were paired with spotlights and color wheels that made them twinkle in rotating hues. In one popular variation, the needles erupted into a kind of pompom at the tip of each rigid branch, like shooting stars.

And then came Charlie Brown, and he ruined everything.

HOW CHARLIE BROWN KILLED THE ALUMINUM CHRISTMAS TREE

"Rec Room Christmas" from from the book "Season's Gleamings: The Art of the Aluminum Christmas Tree" © J. Shimon & J. Lindemann 2004

It might sound strange, but 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas has been partially blamed for the decline of the aluminum tree. As you may recall, when Charlie Brown is going to buy a tree, Lucy tells him to “get the biggest aluminum tree you can find Charlie Brown. Maybe paint it pink!” Grappling with holiday depression, Linus and Charlie Brown mock the aluminum trees and go with the small natural tree instead.

The aluminum tree had become a symbol of everything that had gone wrong with Christmas. Sales tapered off, and then, by the 1970s, they were gone. And yet…

THE SILVER TREE RESURGENCE

In the last 10 years or so, aluminum trees have reemerged. Popping up at estate sales and thrift stores, they’ve developed an enthusiastic following. Much of the renewed interest was sparked by Wisconsin artists John Shimon and Julie Lindemann, who both grew up near Manitowoc, and in 2004 published the photography book Season’s Gleamings: The Art of the Aluminum Christmas Tree, showcasing the trees’ history and their own collection.

Aluminum Christmas trees are now collectors' items, holiday trophies for modernist design enthusiasts. They sell on eBay for hundreds of dollars, with a rare pink model once going for more than $3600. There’s definitely a kitsch appeal. But while they were once seen as a cold threat to the true spirit of Christmas, for a lot of people, they’ve become ageless symbols of holiday Americana.

“Fifty, sixty years on, the Evergleam is now a warm, nostalgic memory, fondly recalled,” said Joe Kapler, a historian who curates a recurring exhibit on the trees at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. “It’s funny how that works out.”

9 Other Things That Happened on July 4

iStock/LPETTET
iStock/LPETTET

Of course we know that July 4 is Independence Day in the U.S. But lots of other things have happened on that date as well. Here are just a few of them:

1. Three former presidents died.

On July 4, 1826, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson—America's second and third presidents, respectively—both passed away. The two politicians had a love-hate relationship, and Adams's last words were supposedly, "Thomas Jefferson survives." (He didn't know that Jefferson had passed away a few hours earlier.) Exactly five years later, on July 4, 1831, fifth U.S. President James Monroe died in New York City.

2. Henry David Thoreau moved to Walden Pond.

On July 4, 1845, Henry David Thoreau began his two-year living experiment at Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts.

3. Alice Liddell first heard the story of Alice in Wonderland.

On July 4, 1862, little Alice Liddell listened to a story told by Lewis Carroll during a boat trip on the Thames ... it would later become, of course, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It was published exactly three years later—on July 4, 1865.

4. Two famous advice columnists were born.

On July 4, 1918, twin sisters Esther Pauline and Pauline Esther Friedman were born. Today they're better known as Ann Landers and Dear Abby.

5. George Steinbrenner came into the world.

On July 4, 1930, future Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was born (and presumably fired the doctor immediately).

6. Lou Gehrig delivered his retirement speech.

On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig gave his famous retirement speech at Yankee Stadium after being diagnosed with ALS. He tells the crowd that he considers himself "the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

7. The Zodiac Killer killed for the first time. (As far as we know.)

On July 4, 1968, the Zodiac Killer murdered his first victims (that we know of) at Lake Herman Road in Benicia, California.

8. Koko was born.

On July 4, 1971, Koko, the sign-language gorilla, was born.

9. Bob Ross passed away.

On July 4, 1995, Bob Ross died, and all over the world, Happy Little Trees were a little less happy.

This list first ran in 2008 and was updated for 2019.

10,000 People Gathered at Stonehenge to Welcome the Summer Solstice

Finnbarr Webster, Getty Images
Finnbarr Webster, Getty Images

There are plenty of reasons to welcome the start of summer. Today, people visiting Stonehenge took that celebration to a whole new level.

The BBC reported that an estimated 10,000 people made the pilgrimage to the 5000-year-old site to partake in summer solstice festivities. "Stonehenge was built to align with the Sun, and to Neolithic people, the skies were arguably as important as the surrounding landscape," Susan Greaney, a senior historian at English Heritage, said in a statement. "At solstice we remember the changing daylight hours, but the changing seasons, the cycles of the Moon, and movements of the Sun are likely to have underpinned many practical spiritual aspects of Neolithic life."

These spiritual aspects are just one of the many fascinating facts about the summer solstice; the day is an extremely old calendar event recognized by ancient cultures across the globe. They include the Druids and other pagans, whose tradition of observing the solstice at Stonehenge has long been upheld by modern revelers.

Scientifically speaking, Stonehenge is an optimal viewing place for the solstice due to its structure. According to TIME, the site’s architects appeared to have kept both the summer and winter solstices in mind during its construction, as the positions of the stones are specifically tuned to complement the sky on both occasions.

The solstices were sacred to the pagans, whose modern-day followers continue to honor their rituals. Pagans in particular refer to the day as Litha, and mark it with activities such as meditation, fire rites, and outdoor yoga.

“What you’re celebrating on a mystical level is that you’re looking at light at its strongest," Frank Somers, a member of the Amesbury and Stonehenge Druids, said in 2014. "It represents things like the triumph of the king, the power of light over darkness, and just life—life at its fullest."

Those who were unable to make the journey can head over to the Stonehenge Skyscape project's website, where English Heritage’s interactive live feed fully captured the experience.

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