Holiday Lights – A Tradition that Hits Home

Light Up the Fox will host a Riverfront Light Display Dec. 21, 2013-Feb, 11, 2014 in the Green Space near Historic Atlas Mill featuring animated lights designed and built by area students. More info:

By: Barb Sauer, President – Light Up the Fox  

When I interviewed for my first job out of college in December a few decades ago, I stayed at the Paper Valley Hotel on College Ave.  I can still vividly remember the Holiday lights adorning ‘The Avenue’, especially the angels.  It possessed a hint of Bedford Falls out of It’s a Wonderful Life.  It sent a subtle message of a strong community with a flare for style and celebration, leaving me with a positive impression that influenced my decision to relocate across the country. The lights are still an important part of Appleton’s holiday season.  It is quite fitting that this same avenue hosts a brilliantly illuminated nighttime Christmas parade.    

Over the years, lights have become an integral part of the holiday season and for those who have attended a candlelight service on Christmas Eve, it’s easy to imagine that this connection was ‘soldered’ before electricity came along.  Researching the history unveils quite a few interesting stories.  Some which can be ‘wired’ back to Appleton, WI.

The year 1882, gave birth to a few electrical milestones.  In August, Appleton resident, Henry J. Rogers signed a contract with Western Edison Light company to purchase two Edison type K dynamos that would be driven by water.  At the end of September, the system was operational.  The fact that this power station provided incandescent lighting to a homestead, as well as industry, using Edison technology, was a first in the world.

Later in that same year, 1882, an inventor working for Thomas Edison, Edward Johnson, was the first to light up a Christmas tree with electricity in New York City.  Years previously, candles were used to illuminate the holiday evergreens.   Fire was an obvious danger.   After losing neighbors to such a fire, Albert Sadacca, a young emerging inventor, at the age of 15, sought to lower the cost of making Christmas lights so that more households could safely enjoy them. Building on the experience of his family’s business, making bird cages with decorative lights, in 1917, Albert, embarked on what was to become a top selling holiday light company for years, NOMA.

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Lights, Christmas, electricity, Edison, and Appleton – are like a complete ‘circuit’.   I’m not sure how long it took to go from being first to lighting up a residence to putting electric lights on College Avenue.  However, when David Kalz, a passionate local historian, shared an old photo of a lit-up College Avenue, it made me believe the city was an early adopter on this front too.

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There's so much to like about Downtown Appleton. Thanks to its 60+ distinctive shops ... 50+ casual, fine dining and ethnic restaurants... nearly 30 pubs, clubs and live music hot spots ... a leading performing arts center and world-class visual arts gallery ... family-friendly activities and attractions ... a variety of coffee shops and gathering places ... PLUS Northeast Wisconsin's best events, Downtown Appleton is a favorite destination for many -- and it just keeps getting better and better!

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