Monday, December 10, 2012

Montana’s First National Christmas Tree

Montana has donated the national Christmas tree displayed outside on the White House lawn three times:  in 1958, 1989, and 2008. The tradition of the national tree stretches back to President Calvin Coolidge. During his administration in 1923, the Society for Electrical Development conceived the idea of a national decorated tree to encourage electricity and electric lighting in holiday decorating.

The first national Christmas tree was lit on December 24, 1923.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, National Photo Company Collection, LC-F81- 28049
The national outdoor tree has since become the official symbol of the holiday season, but also symbolizes current events. For example, from 1942 to 1944 during World War II blackouts prevented lighting the tree; in 1980 the tree was only fully lit for 417 seconds, each second symbolized each day hostages had been in captivity in Iran; in 1985, lights were dimmed on Christmas Eve in observance of American hostages in Lebanon, and in 2001 families of victims of 9/11 participated in the lighting of the tree. The trees have come from across the nation. Sometimes they have been cut trees, and sometimes living trees that were later planted. In 1958, Montana got its first turn to supply the national tree. The Libby Chamber of Commerce presented President Dwight Eisenhower with an Engelmann Spruce cut in the Kootenai National Forest. The tree was 99 feet tall, but cut 24 feet up its base to make a 75-foot tree. The tree, weighing some 5,000 pounds, rested on two flatbed rail cars with its branches wrapped and cradled for the 2,490-mile journey from Libby to Washington, D.C. President Eisenhower tripped the electric switch on December 24. Today, trees are lit early in December to allow a longer holiday season.

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