Jackie Hope: Old-fashioned tree lights stand the test of time
Know what's best about Christmas? Well, besides it's being Jesus' birthday and all. Bubble lights.They come in a string, and look like upside-down turkey basters. You plug them in, they light up, the juice inside them gets hot and then they start...
Know what’s best about Christmas? Well, besides it’s being Jesus’ birthday and all. Bubble lights.
They come in a string, and look like upside-down turkey basters. You plug them in, they light up, the juice inside them gets hot and then they start to bubble like crazy. Think of Mini Me versions of lava lights. Bubble lights complete me. Or, at least, they complete my Christmas.
Those bad boy bubblers have been around for a long time. The website oldchristmastreelights.com - there really is a website totally devoted to old Christmas tree lights - says on Nov. 27, 1935, Carl Otis filed a patent for a bubbling tabletop sign. He called the invention his “Display.” Carl was better at inventing lights than naming them.
Benjamin Franklin was one of the first guys to tinker with bubbles in a tube. And other inventors contemporary with Otis held patents on bubbling signs. But Otis was the one who thought up bubbling lights for a Christmas tree. He called those little fellas “Ornamental Illuminating Devices.” Yeah, I know.
On July 4, 1944, Otis was granted the patent for his bubble lights, despite their uninspiring name, and he contacted manufacturers in the hope of marketing them. NOMA Electric quickly plugged into his idea.
By 1945, Otis obtained another patent, revising his 1944 lights. Didn’t revise the name, though. The lights were not commercially manufactured, however, until the end of World War II. Some sources say they were available for Christmas in 1945, other sources say 1946. Original boxes of lights from 1946 have survived. Fortunately, NOMA had the foresight to change the name to “Bubble Lites.”
During the next few years, there were controversies and lawsuits over what company actually owned the bubble light patent. The Raylite company eventually won the patent war, based on a patent filed in 1942 by Phillip Rosenblatt. He called his lights a “Display Device.” What is it with inventors and names?
NOMA continued to make bubble lights until the 1960s, when the company filed for bankruptcy. But bubble lights are still with us. You can buy them with bubble juice in the traditional colors of blue, yellow, red and green, or in clear. There are bubble lights with Halloween themes, Easter themes and Valentine themes. You can even get them with glitter in the bubble juice. Don’t know about you, but my favorite color is glitter.
The first time I saw bubble lights was at my Uncle Gordon’s house. He put them on his windowsill, nestled in Christmas greenery. Real greenery; the good stuff. I was just tall enough so that my chin could rest on the sill, and I would stand for what seemed to be hours, watching those bubbles.
I planned to camp out under the bubble lights one Christmas Eve. Uncle Gordon was down with it, but Aunt Marie had other plans. And those plans did not include a 6-year-old having a one-person slumber party under her living room window.
Now I have my very own bubble lights. I am so rich, I have three strings of bubble lights. They have attitude. They prefer to sit upright on the Christmas tree branches. If they are upside down, the bubble juice rushes to their heads, and they refuse to work. Each color begins to bubble at a different time. The laziest color is blue. He lays around at the base of his bubble tube, basking in the glow of the light bulb underneath him. He is not an early riser.
Yellow takes off like a shot, and bubbles faster than my big honker Keurig coffeemaker. Red is next, but her bubbles are small and not easy to see. We call red “Tiny Bubbles.” Green gets the green light to come in third. Smooth on the acceleration.
But blue. Sometimes he does not work at all. Then I have to take the bubble lights off the tree and redo them. And that’s sad. Just like in Elvis’ song, “Blue Christmas.” “Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree won’t be the same ... I’ll have to redo Christmas, without blue.”