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Entrepreneurs and Holiday Inventions

by Melissa Rose on December 21, 2009

In trying to keep with last week’s theme, innovations, (which I’m still working on, so it will be a theme for a little while) it occurred to me to blog about all of those Christmas inventions we take for granted.  I know, you’re thinking, “Oh no, she’s going to get into a discussion about St. Nick, Jesus, Mary and the gang” but I will refrain from gabbing about those fine men and women and just bring you these:

Adhesive Tape

There’s good and bad tape for wrapping presents.  The bad tape is the stuff that breaks off on the roll and it takes minutes to find the end so that you can cut off a new piece.  Bad tape is evident by pointy ends.

In 1923 Richard Drew invented adhesive tape, otherwise known as Scotch tape, while an employee at 3M Company.  Drew also invented masking tape for use in painting.  Some nine years later, John Borden, another 3M employee, invented the tape dispenser with a built in cutter thingy.

Wrapping Paper

People have been wrapping gifts ever since paper was invented – around 105 AD, but it didn’t become popular until the 1920s (probably because Scotch tape hadn’t been invented yet. ) 

Prior to that, gifts were wrapped in tissue paper or brown paper (remember Little House on the Prairie) until printing press technology imporved and paper could be colored, decorated and folded.

Hy-Sill Manufacturing Inc. was the first American gift wrapping company and Hallmark entered the niche in 1917 when it sold large pieces of wrapping paper for $.10 a sheet.

Christmas Lights

Before 1882, Christmas celebrators across Germany and Eastern Europe used to stick lit candles in the trees as decoration pieces.  It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century when Edward Johnson decided to use electricity and light a tree up using 80 small light bulbs.  By 1900, electrical lights could be found and purchased in department stores.

People continued to like the idea of putting lit candles in flammable trees even after the invention of the electric light strand.  After a fire in New York City involving candles and a tree ensued (shocking), 15 year old Albert Sadacca got an idea to invent safe lights for Christmas trees.  Albert first sold white lights followed by colored lights the following year.  He later formed Noma Electric Company which became the largest Christmas lighting company in the world.

Gift Cards

I was in elementary school when I received my first gift certificate (for McDonalds.)  It was far more exciting to receive a McDonald’s gift certificate than cash because it meant that at some point in the future I would be dining on french fries and a hot apple pie.

The plastic gift card is a decendent of those magical paper gift certificates.  It’s said that Mobil Oil Company started producing the use of plastic, electronic gift cards in 1995 after swipping the technology from prepaid phone cards.  Although Mobil used the cards for gas purchases, it was Blockbuster, the movie rental people, were the first to offer the modern day gift card.

Fake Christmas Trees

The use of the fake Christmas tree started in Germany and were made of metal wires.  Animal feathers from turkeys, geese, swan or ostrich were dyed green and placed on the tree to resemble pine needles. 

It wasn’t until the 1930s that Addis Brush Company made the first artificial trees.  Addis Brush manufactured toilet brushes and used the same technology to make their trees.  Hmmm…


The history of Rudolph dates back to 1939 when Robert May, a copywriter for Montgomery Ward stores, was asked to come up with a Christmas schtick to help with their holiday promotions.  Montgomery Ward gave away coloring books and thought that if they could produce their own, it would save them money.

Rudolph’s name  first started out as Rollo and then Reginald before May settled on Rudolph.  May’s boss wasn’t too thrilled about the red nose and felt it would be associated with drunkiness, but after it was sketched, Rudolph was approved for their coloring books.  That year the company gave away 2.6 million copies and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was born.

Chinese Restaurants

The first Chinese restaurants in America (called Chow Chows) emerged in California in the mid 19th-century.  Today, there are more Chinese restaurants in America than McDonalds.

American Chinese food evolved from using Chinese cooking techniques and mixing it with local tastes.  Chinese restaurants were far from popular at first, but eventually non-Chinese Americans, especially American Jews,  figured out that the food tasted pretty good.  Chinese restaurants are usually open on Christmas Day simply because many American Chinese, like Jews, don’t celebrate Christmas.

Success to you and Happy Holidays!


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