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The Aluminum Christmas Tree: Obsolete or Timeless?

December 21, 2015 Archive Insight

Aluminum Christmas Tree, 1960-1965 THF162729

It was eye-catching, lightweight, and easy to care for. There was none of the fuss and muss of a real tree because the needles were attached. You could store it compactly in a box and reuse it year after year. It was completely safe unless you foolishly strung it with electric lights—potentially causing a fire hazard.

Photo of tree in living room, December 1962 THF126330

No, to make your aluminum Christmas tree shine with a dazzling brilliance, you didn’t use strings of electric lights. You turned a four-color, revolving color wheel onto it. And maybe added a few shiny blue or red balls to heighten the silvery aluminum effect. Any way you looked at it, the aluminum Christmas tree was a perfect symbol of the modern Jet-Age lifestyle people were dreaming about in the early 1960s.

Blue Christmas tree balls, 1963-1965 THF309083

The Aluminum Specialty Company of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, is credited with starting the craze for aluminum Christmas trees—producing and selling more than one million of these trees between 1959 and 1969. Their flagship tree was called “Evergleam”—an ironic play on the word “Evergreen.” Once other aluminum manufacturers caught on to the popularity of these trees, they produced their own versions.  The additional purchase of a color wheel produced a delightful variety of colors on the tree’s silvery needles and branches.

Color wheel, 1960-1965 THF162742

The 1965 TV special “A Charlie Brown Christmas” has been blamed for cutting the aluminum Christmas tree craze short. In this classic ½-hour special, aluminum trees were portrayed as gaudy, fake, and overly commercial—vastly inferior to the sad, scraggly real tree that Charlie Brown chose instead.

Cover of a 1977 Early Reader 2002.130.2; THF 126319

Perhaps their time had come anyway. Sales had reached their saturation point. Consumer tastes began to change in the late 1960s, toward earthier colors and more natural materials. By the early 1970s, aluminum trees were a thing of the past, thrown away or relegated to basements and attics.

But in recent years, they’ve been making a comeback!  Aluminum Christmas trees from the 1960s are fetching ever-higher prices at estate sales and online auctions.  Older people fondly remember them from childhood while younger people love their bright, shiny funkiness.

aluminum_tree_blue

What do you think? Should aluminum trees remain relegated to deep storage or should they be revived, as timeless symbols of a uniquely American holiday celebration?

Donna R. Braden is the Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

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