Over a decade ago, William L. Bird, Jr., the curator of the Political Campaign Collection at the Smithsonian Institution, embarked on a mission: He began documenting the large-scale holiday lighting displays that had become a staple of American malls and public spaces since the 1900s. “I approached the project as a business story on one hand and as a history story on the other,” Bird told us. “I wanted to find out who made all these displays, and where they had gone.”
The eventual result was Holidays on Display, a book that contains an in-depth overview of the artistry, showmanship, and emerging technology of holiday displays throughout the U.S. It traces the progression of displays from building exteriors and shop windows to parade floats.
The book’s highlight, of course, is lights. As such, Bird devoted a full chapter to Nela Park, the corporate headquarters of GE’s Incandescent Lamp Division in Cleveland, Ohio. (Nela stands for National Electric Light Association.) Known as the “University of Light,” Nela Park was the birthplace of the outdoor electric lighting display in the mid 1920s, and it mounted its first outdoor electrical Christmas display in 1925. Each year after that, GE employees would assemble bigger and more impressive displays that eventually attracted around 300,000 visitors a year.
Below is a captioned slideshow of Nela Park’s legendary holiday displays throughout the late-1900s.
Gallery guide: Click on the small half-circles on the right and left side of the gallery to see more images. To magnify or reduce an image, click on it. Scroll over an image to see the caption. To see the largest view, click on the small paper icon with the arrow and view the photo in Flickr.
* Read excerpts about GE in Holidays on Display
See more holiday stories on GE Reports
* “Christmas Toys Gone Wrong: Hear Edison’s Talking ‘Monster’ Doll”
* “Christmas in LEDs: From the National Tree to Inspired Hackers”
* “Santa’s Got Game: GE Researchers Juice-up Futuristic Toy Lab”
* “Behind the Toy Technologies in Santa’s Futuristic Lab“
* “Holiday lights: From festive fuchsia to a bright boogie”
* “GE’s labs unveil Santa’s high-tech sleigh of the future”
* William Bird was a recent panelist at a tribute to Ronald Reagan’s work on GE Theater