Aluminum Christmas trees represent a bit of nostalgia

10:05 am | December 12, 2011

Aluminum Christmas trees are a thing of the past. They were popular from 1958 until about the mid-1960s. They are said to have been the first artificial Christmas trees that were not green in color.

Photo by Brandon Hicks - An aluminum Christmas tree decorated with blue ornaments pays tribute to the Dallas Cowboys tree. The tree, which is on display at Lingerfelt Pharmacy, was decorated by Marsha Harrison, a Cowboys’ fan and pharmacy manager at Lingerfelt’s. Her step-mother is the mother of Jason Witten, who is a former Cyclone now playing tight end for the Dallas Cowboys.

Photo by Brandon Hicks - Mike Lingerfelt is pictured with one of seven aluminum Christmas trees on display at Lingerfelt Pharmacy.

Mike Lingerfelt, owner of Lingerfelt Pharmacy, this year has on display at his downtown store seven of the trees, which he has collected over the years. They are decorated in different colors – blue, purple, red, pink, green, etc.

Photo by Brandon Hicks - An aluminum tree decorated with purple ornaments on display at Lingerfelt Pharmacy. “I suppose we have a Minnesota Vikings fan here,” said Lingerfelt.

Mike said he bought his first aluminum tree in the late 1980s at a yard sale. “It came from the old Eagle store,” he noted. He displayed it in the drug store, and it drew all kinds of comments, ranging from “We used to have one of them,” or “my mother has one of them,” and “I remember those.” In fact, Loretta Pierce, who works at Carter County Bank, gave Mike the silver tree that belonged to her mother, Nellie, who is now a resident at Roan Highlands Nursing Center.

Since that time, others have given him their tree. He said three of the trees were picked up at yard sales. He noted that one of the trees came from the old Kress store on Elk Avenue. “It is sort of a nostalgic thing with me,” Mike said.

The trees have to be put together and have individual branches that stick into the main trunk, therefore, it is always good to have extra limbs available in case one becomes damaged or broken. He recalls seeing some of the branches in some garbage on a city street, and stopped and retrieved them.

Displaying the trees in the store make for good conversation and they are eye-catchers. “This is the first year we have had all of them up,” noted Mike. The trees were decorated by the pharmacy students, who work at the store.

Mike noted that when the trees were popular back in the 1960s, many of them were illuminated from below via a rotating color wheel. The colored wheel featured varied color segments on a clear plastic wheel. When switched on the wheel rotated and a light shone through the clear plastic casting an array of colors throughout the tree’s metallic branches..

Fire safety concerns prevented lights from being strung through the tree’s branches like they are on green trees.

Lingerfelt said as the mid-1960s passed, the aluminum Christmas trees began to fall out of favor, with many thrown away or relegated to basements and attics. As they became unpopular and passed from the scene, they became popular items for garage sales. More recently, they have become items for collectors.

Lingerfelt, who is known for liking old and odd items, said when he lived on West D Streets he amused his neighbors by placing one of the aluminium trees in the window, along with some pink flamingoes.

A web site noted that when the aluminum trees were popular, the company in Manitowoc, Wisc., which made them, produced more than one million aluminum trees in that decade. They retailed for $25, and wholesaled for $11.25.

The web site also explained that the aluminium Christmas tree was used as a symbol of the over-commercialization of Christmas in the 1965 Peanuts holiday special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The program’s mention of the aluminum tree solidified the tree’s legendary status while satirizing it as well. In the special, Lucy implored Charlie Brown to get a “big, shiny aluminum tree…maybe painted pink.” Charlie Brown lamented the commercialization of the true meaning of Christmas, ignored his friend’s request, and purchased a small, scrawny natural tree instead.

By the way, Mike has a Charlie Brown tree on display in the pharmacy. It has one shiny red ornament on it.

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