"She placed an order on the spot – and not a conservative one."
December 21, 2014 5:21 PM   Subscribe

"Though there were manufacturers in several parts of the United States, the great preponderance of commercially-made aluminum trees were created by the Aluminum Specialty Company of Manitowoc, Wisconsin. When their 'Evergleam' line debuted in 1959, many embraced the shiny trees as an expression of the new Atomic Age. The trees appealed to a Jetsons-style notion of modern living where life was clean, automated and easy; with an aluminum tree, needles never fell, it could be stored compactly and re-used every year, with none of the fuss of a real tree." Etsy: History Lesson: The Aluminum Christmas Tree, by Jeni Sandberg.

Remember Aluminum Trees? Wisconsin-Made Evergleams Are Making a Comeback (WUWM, Milwaukee)
"Exactly what the buyer wanted and we took it to New York for the toy show. The first person I worked with was from Minneapolis, and it was a woman buyer and she loved it," [Jerry] Waak says.

"She placed an order on the spot – and not a conservative one. 'And I'll tell you, at that time, with our toy line where we were selling and item for $1 or $2 or $3; a $25,000 order was big,' he adds. Her order was for $50,000.
1960's Aluminum Christmas Trees!, RetroKimmer"They are a very striking gorgeous, shiny symbol of the space age and in fact on television they were called 'Space Age Christmas Trees' in the commercials."

Christmas Comeback Kid: The Aluminum Christmas TreeGo Retro"Evergleam was popular for its 'pom pom' trees which featured feathery pom poms or bursts on the ends of the branches."

Visual History of Christmas Trees (an infographic, Christmas Tree Market)

Bonus link: Pink Flocked Christmas Tree, Alcoa Aluminum Company, Los Angeles, 1955 ("The centerpiece is unlike any Christmas tree I've ever had the joy of seeing. It’s not only flocked, it’s flocked in two-tone pink. The higher it goes the pinker it gets! Christmas inspires so much creativity.")
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (43 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I always kind of wanted one.
posted by emjaybee at 5:24 PM on December 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

My Nana Quinn had the most beautiful aluminum Christmas tree with a rotating colored light. I thought it was the most fabulous thing I'd ever seen, and I was so sad when she died and nobody wanted to save the tree (I was in high school at the time). Nowadays, it would probably be worth a small fortune, and they're back in style.

The moral? Never doubt a teenaged gay guy when it comes to holiday decorating.
posted by xingcat at 5:31 PM on December 21, 2014 [36 favorites]

My parents had one when I was a very little child (probably 1965 or 66), complete with the rotating four-color gel wheel with floodlamp. My mother hated it so much, she made my father go out and buy a real tree on Christmas Eve.
posted by briank at 5:31 PM on December 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think one of the reasons they fell out of favour was that too many people had the bad idea of putting lights on them. Electrocution and fires. (apologies if I missed mention of it in the links)
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:38 PM on December 21, 2014

You can't put lights on them? Lights aren't space-age?
posted by thelonius at 5:41 PM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Aluminum Christmas Trees is an actual TVTrope! The trope itself is defined as "An element that exists or existed in Real Life but is assumed to be fictional by audiences, often because it seems too unlikely, bizarre, or kitschy to be real. Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction."

The article states that it was the TV special "A Charlie Brown Christmas" that caused aluminum Christmas trees to lose popularity. (Though the electrocution hazard probably didn't help.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:43 PM on December 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

My grandmother had a silver one, with red balls. As a kid, I was fascinated with it -- it was much more appealing than my parents' "natural" fake Christmas tree, which was gnarly and bristly and actually seemed *more* artificial than the silver one. My parents, though, hated the silver tree -- it was reminiscent of everything they hated about growing up in the 1950s and 1960s.

The silver tree is still in the family, stored somewherein my dad's garage. I haven't looked at it in years to see what shape it's in. My apartment doesn't have room for it, anyway, if I tried to rescue it. But last year, I bought my first Christmas tree as an adult, at 39, after decades of avoiding the holidays. It's tiny, and sits on my similarly petite kitchen table. But it's silver, with red ornaments, in honor of its much larger predecessor.

My grandmother was a very, very difficult person who I have complicated memories of, but she really had great taste in Christmas trees.
posted by heurtebise at 5:44 PM on December 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I just put up my grandmother's aluminum tree! I've always liked the metallic crinkling sound the branches make when they move.
posted by heart's ease at 6:11 PM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I sell vintage goods and aluminum trees are one of the few things that are 100% guaranteed to sell. I've had uncommon luck when it comes to finding them and I'm always happy to sell them on because people tell me stories about how much they've always wanted one and how they fell in love with them. I have a real tree because I like lights but if I ever chance upon a shiny pink one, I may have to keep it.
posted by atropos at 6:22 PM on December 21, 2014

I'll see your aluminum tree with red balls and raise you a 8 gel color wheel. I always loved that thing growing up. It was a staple in our house from the late 70s through the late 80s/early 90s.
posted by mmascolino at 6:37 PM on December 21, 2014

I think you could put the new lights on them, but I wouldn't just in case a frayed casing let a live wire touch the tree. Back in the day, the only lights you could get were those outside-style large lights, and those get really hot-- plus as far as I know, UL-listed was not a thing, so they would be relatively unsafe. I mean, safer than candles, but less safe on a conductive metal tree.

Did cats climb aluminum trees back then? Or do cats prefer natural?
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:38 PM on December 21, 2014

What I believe you are really looking for is the burlesque dancer christmas tree.

(she shows up at 2:59 if you don't want to see the whole thing)
posted by bukvich at 6:43 PM on December 21, 2014

I have a smile shaped scar on my index finger from when I was 5 or 6 and found a piece of an aluminum Christmas tree on the floor of a Gemco. My mom had just taught me how to curl ribbon with scissors so, being a idiot, I thought if I substituted a finger for the scissors blade and this flat bit of aluminum for the ribbon, I'd end up with a pretty shiny curl. So much blood.
posted by jamaro at 6:44 PM on December 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

How very cold-war: weaponised awfulness.
posted by pompomtom at 7:08 PM on December 21, 2014

I don't see why they wouldn't work with lights - especially modern low-voltage LEDs. If you're that worried about safety, ya wuss. Does Santa give a flip for modern codes?

I've never seen one, though. I'm not sure they ever made it to the UK, and if they did they'dve been long before my time and far outside my social whirl..All my trees have been real, especially the treeranosaurus that appeared every year in the local church and nearly touched the ceiling at the end of the nave before depositing an imperial ton of needles for poor put-upon choirboys to clear up. However, I really really want one - and moreover, I suspect they'd make a very effective indoor antenna for my radio antics.

Didididit dah dah dah didididit dah dah dah didididit dah dah dah.
posted by Devonian at 7:13 PM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had to assemble ours every year. One dot branches here, two dots there and three dots way up there. Then pink glass balls evenly spaced about and the crowning blown glass spire. Plug in the rotating color wheel and it's Christmas!
posted by jim in austin at 7:35 PM on December 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

We had one growing up and yes, cats do climb them and then the tree falls over. I bought a three foot tall one at an auction for $80 a few years ago. I've seen the bigger ones sell for several hundred dollars. It's pretty rare to find the color wheel.
posted by tamitang at 7:39 PM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I remember one year when I was about 7 and my sister was 4, we had both a fake tree and a real tree, the fake one in the basement. My sister and her freind took apart the fake one, pissing off my parents to no end. I also fell backwards down the stairs that year scaring the hell out of everyone. I dont think these events are related.
posted by jonmc at 7:40 PM on December 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Justice League Animated episode Comfort and Joy, where Flash gifts the Ultra-Humanite with an aluminum Christmas tree (complete with gel color wheel), is one of the most charming episodes of the series.
posted by happyroach at 7:45 PM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Target sells something like these! We accidentally bought one this year due to oh god I've never bought a tree before panic crowds unhappy baby panic (we returned it, because I did not -want- a shiny silver tree) -- they had them in colors too, I'm certain I saw pink and maybe teal.
posted by FritoKAL at 7:50 PM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I appreciate that an aluminum tree is honest in its symbology. The design is saying that an abstract symbolic object can be beautiful in its own way, as opposed to a plastic, replica tree that attempts to achieve beauty through mimicry.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 8:49 PM on December 21, 2014 [10 favorites]

We had a gorgeous vintage silver one when I was growing up! Loved it. I thought we put lights on it, but maybe I am not remembering correctly? Or maybe we simply were into living on the edge? No clue.
posted by Windigo at 8:49 PM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think the fire hazard may have been more related to those old fashioned crappy screw base light strings, which were a hazard enough all by themselves. Lights without exposed conductors, such as those mini light strings common since at least the 70s, should be reasonably safe.

The aluminum Christmas tree was part of a very special ritual of my childhood. We had one that I think my Mom found used somewhere, sans color wheel. It always seemed so special as a little kid to help her pull each branch out of its protective rolled paper cover, and insert it in the silver painted dowel of a trunk, all shimmery making a peculiar metallic whooshing sound as the needles slid through the paper to their pre-formed shape. The tree was tossed sometime around 1980 in one of the many moves our family made. By then, I was a teen, and we were fortunate enough to afford a real tree. But adolescence and millions of dry needles on the carpet never again made Christmas that magical season it was as a little boy, when our tree sparkled like a Las Vegas marquee even in daylight.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:08 PM on December 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm the proud owner of my great-grandparents' 1960s aluminum tree. It looks fabulous. Still has the rotating base and color wheel, through I don't use those usually. I do miss the smell of pine, though.
posted by olinerd at 11:06 PM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is THAT what those illuminated motorized color wheels were from? I associate them along with audio bypass filter "light organs" from Fisher Scientific or Radio Shack. Down in retro-even-in-the-1970s mid-century rec rooms.
Being Jewish, I don't know from xmas trees or esoteric xmas tree accessories.
posted by Dreidl at 11:21 PM on December 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

wow. I'd never heard of these before. I'm a real-tree guy all the way, and I generally despise mid-century decor, but these are pretty neat-looking.
posted by xbonesgt at 4:44 AM on December 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Growing up in the 60's, my aunt and uncle had an aluminum tree and a color wheel. As a kid, I thought it was pretty cool.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:45 AM on December 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I sell vintage goods and aluminum trees are one of the few things that are 100% guaranteed to sell.

I've always wanted one, but i know as someone who has also sold quite a lot of vintage stuff over the years off and on, that at this point i would totally pay out the ass for one. It's square in the center of the kind of thing people who were solidly hipsters in say, 2006 in the their early-mid 20s, would now buy in their late 20s-30s and drop a dumb amount of cash on at the flea market/"craft and swap fair" with mimosas on sundays that their friend DJs at. If i saw one of these at one of those places for under $200(or even $300), i'd spit out the CSA-vegetable filled quesadilla i had just bought 10 feet earlier.

They're cool, but they're in that venn diagram overlap between hipstery-cool and generally cool that vinyl, vintage stereo gear, mid 90s and earlier videogames, and a lot of other things have slipped in to where the prices just explode.

I think i'll be stuck with my $25 thrift store score halfway-decent pre lit tree that's survived the past 3+ years, unless i see one of these things at some estate sale or something for under $50.
posted by emptythought at 4:55 AM on December 22, 2014

My family had one that we used in our living room that had a large bay window overlooking the street. Decorated with only red ball ornaments. Simple and striking.

We always had a real tree in our family room.

(We also had a ceramic Christmas tree on our stereo credenza and a wire Christmas tree card holder. I guess my Mom had a thing for Christmas trees).
posted by srboisvert at 4:58 AM on December 22, 2014

When I was small, my very religious great gramma had a small, silver tree with one of those rotating color light wheel things. She always said she had the silver one because a green one was 'too Pagan'.
posted by ersatzkat at 5:05 AM on December 22, 2014

I prefer a real tree, though I've been decorating a 1928 Hoover Model 700 vacuum cleaner for the past fifteen years after not being able to afford a proper tree one year and realizing that, if I was going to put up something industrial for Xmas, it might as well be something beautiful. I've been celebrating the vacuum of the season ever since.

My style guru always had a gorgeous super-vintage silver aluminum job, and it was a thing of rotating color-washed beauty, but damn if that thing didn't cut you up like a cloud of razor blades while you were reaching in to hook your low-hanging balls onto that sparkly armature.

Still, I have nothing but scorn for those who think a toilet brush tree is acceptable. I may be an irreverent lapsed Presbyterian, but even I know you don't celebrate a holiday by decorating a piece of green plastic garbage designed to scrape impacted shit splatter off the back of a toilet bowl.
posted by sonascope at 5:37 AM on December 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Growing up, we always had real trees, but over on a counter or on a shelf was a little 18 inch aluminum christmas tree with about 2 dozen simple 1-inch shiny ball ornaments. It was apparently a holdover from my father's bachelor days or my parents newlywed phase in the mid-late 60's that they kept for tradition's sake. I haven't seen it for years, but I do remember thinking it was odd as a kid in the early 80's.
posted by Badgermann at 5:54 AM on December 22, 2014

I've been decorating a 1928 Hoover Model 700 vacuum cleaner for the past fifteen years

Please accept this coal-powered digital facsimile of sincere congratulations. That is a beaut.
posted by Wolof at 6:01 AM on December 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Please accept this coal-powered digital facsimile of sincere congratulations.

My grandfather was an inventive mechanical engineer, and everything around his house was futuristic. Plexiglass and honeycombed aircraft aluminum where his go-to domestic materials. But for Christmas, he was a strict traditionalist.

Every year he cut down an 8 foot spruce by hand using a 200 year-old broad axe, and set it up in his living room, carefully decorated with actual burning candles. The base of the tree sat in a removable hatch in the floor, connecting it to a mechanism in the basement, which rotated the tree using a coal-fired steam engine.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:25 AM on December 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Of course, this year, seeing as I decided to give in to my actual age and manliness and just let my beard go full out, everyone in my social loop had been obsessed with sending me pictures of beards full of ornaments as the sort of zany thing that they think I should be doing for the holiday.

This irritates me because (A) I'm not that kind of zany, (B) ornamented beards are the beardo version of being that douchey guy around the office that wears a Santa hat for three solid weeks in December, and (C) beard ornaments are a cockblock to possible DILFhood as potent as ugly Christmas sweaters and musical Christmas novelty neckties.

Of course, I'm also just generally irritable. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to strap a branch onto my dingo's head and go into town to stea erm do some shopping.
posted by sonascope at 6:38 AM on December 22, 2014

> Now if you'll excuse me, I have to strap a branch onto my dingo's head and go into town to stea erm do some shopping.

While I appreciate the literary reference, you'll create a much better effect by using coral and wood screws.
posted by davelog at 7:15 AM on December 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes we had one; here are my brother and sister sitting by it when they were very little. I was both delighted and repulsed by it; I thought it was cool because of the 4-color rotating light but the darn thing was so delicate that when you put it away after Christmas, I seem to remember having a hard time unplugging the branches and getting them back in the box. I longed for a green tree, because, smell. It's the way Christmas smells that makes it so cool for me. Evergreen, cinnamon, new clothes, cookies baking, ham roasting.... Mmmm, Christmas smells so good!
posted by Lynsey at 7:57 AM on December 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is one of those really cool vintage things that I love seeing in photos and learning about it's history, but I don't think I could actually bring myself to use one of these instead of a real tree.
posted by freakazoid at 8:14 AM on December 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've been a firm believer in tinsel trees for at least 10 years now. I have a tall green one and a short purple one, and I love how easy they are and how shiny.

Pro tip: put multicolored lights and shiny balls on a tinsel tree, get real high, and lie down supine (get it?) with your face underneath it.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:12 AM on December 22, 2014

Growing up we had neighbors who were kind of snooty. They had an aluminum tree, with color wheel, of course, in their big picture window, viewable from our picture window, with our natural tree. Naturally, I coveted that shiny, cool, aluminum beauty with its red ornaments, shimmering in the changing colors. But our tree had the old lights that burned hot, with ornaments that had a little propeller in them, twirling over a bulb in the rising heat. Any sincere Christmas tree tends to melt my heart. Merry Christmas, MeFites, and any other holiday you choose to celebrate or not. Peace on Earth to all of us.
posted by theora55 at 10:51 AM on December 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had a vintage silver aluminum tree when I was a teenager. Got it from a family friend. I put it up in the basement, covered with red and green lights and Mountain Dew cans. (I was really into Mountain Dew.) That tree was awesome.
posted by xedrik at 12:42 PM on December 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

my ex-boyfriend was always like blah blah only green trees blah blah. the first Christmas post-boring green tree man, I lucked into finding one of these bad boys in perfect condition, WITH the color wheel, on Craigslist, for $30. I picked it up from this rad old guy who had original Pixies posters all over his wall and a legit record collection. I'm not one hundred percent sure that guy wasn't a Christmas Angel created to make my first single Christmas totally awesome.
posted by kerning at 3:25 PM on December 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I remember my Mom, who wouldn't normally say boo to a goose, launching into a huge tirade about how much she hated these trees when my Dad suggested getting one instead of the scotch pine that we usually got. We got a scotch pine that year, too.
posted by double block and bleed at 5:28 PM on December 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

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