Origins of ordinary things: Artificial Christmas tree

In the 1980s, plastic trees made from PVC plastic became popular, and have maintained that since then. Net photo.

Artificial trees have become one of the most popular Christmas decorations globally, because of the versatility that traditional trees don’t have, especially if you want to add different coloured leaves into the mix, and, they are easy to take down and store.

According to Dambley’s Garden Centre, artificial trees came about during 1880 in Germany. Christmas trees became so popular that Germany’s number of trees noticeably declined. Deforestation had become a real problem, so to combat this, the Goose Feather artificial tree was created.

Goose Feather trees were created using actual goose feathers. The feathers were dyed green and split, secured by wire to form branches. Those wires were attached to dowels which made up the roots. These became quite popular in Germany and soon spread throughout Europe. Still, they couldn’t hold many ornaments because they weren’t particularly sturdy.

In the early 1900s, the Addis Brush Company in Britain realised that there must be a better way to build an artificial Christmas tree. The brush company used bristles (dyed green) to create leaves on artificial trees. These could hold significantly more weight than goose feather trees.

Aluminum trees came next, gaining popularity in the 1950s. They were the first success commercial Christmas tree that weren’t white, adored for their futuristic look. After 1965’s Charlie Brown Christmas Special, they fell out of favour. 

Many credit the TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, which first aired in 1965, with ending the popularity of aluminum trees. They all but disappeared from the market by 1967. However, the silvery trees have recently regained popularity in groups who enjoy “retro” decorations. Some museums have also added aluminum trees to their collections. This is according to Troy Historic Village.

In the 1980s, plastic trees made from PVC plastic became popular, and have maintained that since then. These trees work so well because they look almost exactly like fresh-cut trees, and don’t need to be thrown away after every season. Modern artificial trees also come pre-lit, making set up even simpler. Some trees, called quick set trees, have electrified poles that turn on as soon as you plug them in.

While it used to be uncommon to see artificial trees as a statement decoration, recent years have changed that trend. They come in so many shapes and sizes that you really can use one in every room.

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