Friday, December 14, 2007

Those Aluminum Christmas Trees

One of the first posts on this blog, nearly three years ago, was called "Return of Aluminum Christmas Trees?" and cited a then-recent article from the Washington Times reporting that "current marketers of the once-all-the-rage, later-repudiated-and-mocked decorations" ought to

heed the advice from "Conny of Alcoa," the official home-design hostess of the Aluminum Company of America, circa 1961.

"Decorated with plain ornaments and inexpensive spotlights, aluminum trees develop a spectacular ethereal beauty," Conny counseled in a booklet boasting photos of bouffant-haired women in shirtwaist dresses and stiletto heels, earnestly intent on their aluminum trees.
I added:
I remember aluminum Christmas trees. Conny was right: they did possess "ethereal beauty." More than that, they were a respectable replacement for "live" trees, which had a tendency to shed needles and become fire hazards (especially in the days of big, bulky bulbs on frayed electrical wires). At the time, artificial trees that could "pass" as real trees were rare and expensive, if available at all. Developments in plastics manufacturing didn't make realistic fake trees possible and economical until the 1970s.
Aluminum Christmas trees are again the object of attention -- this time as sought-after items on online auction sites like eBay. Writes "Boomer Angst" columnist Marli Murphy in the Kansas City Star:
aluminum christmas treeBlame Mom: If only she hadn’t trashed the family’s aluminum Christmas tree, circa 1965, you’d be making quick bucks on eBay.

Oh sure, its dilapidated box was coated with decades of attic dust, and she’d been trying for 40 years to get one of you kids to take it (and the rest of that stuff up there!). Start boo-hooing if your fake tree was pink or gold, because then you really could’ve cashed in this holiday season.

Kitschy as it seems today, the aluminum tree in all its artificial glory was the proud centerpiece of many a baby boomer Christmas celebration. The standard version stood 6 feet tall, perfect for a 1960s ranch-style home. The coolest feature was the electric color wheel that magically changed the tree’s silver hue to blue, red, green and orange-gold.
Emma Martin explains in the American Chronicle:
The vintage aluminum Christmas trees sought by collectors today were introduced in 1959 by Christmas tree manufacturers, Aluminum Specialty Company. Soon after their debut, aluminum Christmas trees were rapidly introduced by a variety of other firms and they became one of the staples of the modern American home during Yuletide throughout the 1960s and well into the Seventies.

Aluminum Christmas trees have been characterized as having a design, look and feel of sophistication. In fact, when the trees were launched, many observers and the manufacturer itself called them the 'Space Age Christmas trees'. The silvery color and the unique structure and appearance made the aluminum trees different and more appealing to many people.
Murphy relates that
the industry leader was the “Evergleam” made by the Aluminum Specialty Co. in Manitowoc, Wis. From 1959 to 1969, the company sold more than 1 million Evergleam trees throughout the U.S., and this amazing number doesn’t reflect the tens of thousands sold by dozens of smaller manufacturers.

Complete with color wheel, the artificial trees required no potentially dangerous lights and therefore could be marketed as “safer.” In reality, the aluminum trees were extremely flammable, made of foil-covered paper with heavy cardboard skeletons.
The standard Evergleam was brilliant silver, but they were also fashioned in brassy gold, stylish pink and groovy candy-cane colors, in dimensions varying from tabletop size to 8-foot giants. Deluxe models featured branches finished with end-pieces resembling half a maraschino cherry and were designed with motorized stands that allowed the tree to revolve slowly, circling every one to two minutes.
While going through some boxes of old photographs and archival material earlier this evening, I came across two Polaroid pictures of a 5-year-old me and the aluminum tree my mother erected soon after we moved into a new home just days before Christmas. Note the blue balls.

Rick Sincere aluminum christmas tree 1964 Milwaukee

aluminum christmas tree 1964 Rick Sincere Wauwatosa
To be perfectly truthful, there is some "ethereal beauty" in those Jetsons-era Christmas decorations. I'm not sure I'd lay out big bucks on eBay to buy one, but if one fell into my lap (metaphorically speaking), I would be happy to put it in my living room for the holiday season.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

When I was a kid, in the very late 60s, and all through the 70s, my grandmother had one of those aluminum trees with the revolving lights. I loved it. I loved watching it change color. It had two lights--one on each side--and they revolved at slightly different speeds, so you could get them in sync and then after a few minutes the tree would be in two different colors. And after about 20 minutes, they would be back in sync again. I just loved starring at it, watching those patterns change--it's one of my fondest childhood memories. (Kind of odd, since I'm not a Christian, but there's nothing particularly religious in that.)

To this day, I am a huge supporter of artificial trees, for environmental reasons, and I think the aluminum trees, especially when lit with changing lights, are just beautiful.