Silver trees and color wheels: It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas from 1959. Happy 60th anniversary to the “Evergleam” brand of artificial Christmas trees. It was quite the rage.
The tradition lives on in Manitowoc, Wis., on the shores of Lake Michigan, once the home of the Aluminum Specialty Company, which manufactured the artificial, aluminum trees. During the Christmas season, the town is “busier than Santa’s Toyland.”
Patti Zarling of the Manitowoc Herald Times said: “Evergleam Christmas trees coming down the factory conveyor belt” once filled every spare warehouse that the Aluminum Specialty Company could find.
“We were selling up to a million trees a year for a while,” recalled Jerry Waak, former head of sales for the company. American Specialty sold more than 70% of the shiny trees in the 1960s. “It’s amazing how the whole thing took off,” he said.
Sarah Archer, an author based in Philadelphia, Pa., said that in the 1950s, “aluminum’s abundance was really a byproduct of the World War II effort.” Traditionalists who favored green trees called aluminum Christmas trees “tin Tannenbaums.”
Waak said the company selected the name “Evergleam” instead, capitalizing on technology to produce the trees at a reasonable cost at a time when people were looking for something new. It was a gamble that turned into a wild success.
Jack Levitan writes for the Eichler Network in San Francisco, which seeks to preserve the Californian “mid-century modern” style of architecture. Many of those home owners embraced Evergleams.
Bill Yaryan of San Fernando, Calif., thought about sitting on the floor and watching “the silver tree rotate on its stand while the color wheel revolved as well, in a kind of crazy dance. When the color wheel and tree were rotating, the effect was so wonderful and so totally artificial.”
“The tree and ornaments would change in unison” – a panorama blending from red to green to yellow to blue – “as the tree and wheel spun endlessly. It was completely unhinged from any other Christmas decorations in use then. Its space-age novelty was great.”
Gary Gand, a professional musician in Palm Springs, Calif., likens his personal Evergleam to an “aluminum pylon calling out into space and changing different colors. It’s like a seven-foot-tall lava lamp.” (That, my friends, is dagnabbitly cool.)
Levitan also interviewed Scot Nichols of San Jose, Calif., who noted the aluminum trees don’t shed their needles. “All the kitsch but no sticky pitch. There’s no mess involved. Christmas goes up – and Christmas goes down and into a box, and it’s gone. It’s pretty easy.”
Waak said the company would crinkle, split and curl each Evergleam needle, forming “what we called a pom-pom. That was the biggest hit. You got a reflection of every needle because of the crimping, so you had the maximum amount of light being reflected. There was a real brilliance to it.”
Downtown Manitowoc businesses “aluminize” their display windows with 60 or more vintage trees each holiday season to pay tribute to their hometown product with an amazing display called “Evergleams on Eighth,” a reference to the main north-south street that crosses the Manitowoc River. The trees will be exhibited from Nov. 18-Jan. 5.
Closer to home, in Brevard, N.C., the Transylvania (County) Heritage Museum is once again featuring the collection of aluminum trees that belongs to Stephen Jackson, owner of a custom home design and construction business in Brevard.
It all started as a joke in 1991, when a friend “gifted” Jackson a “tattered aluminum Christmas tree pilfered from a garbage heap.” Remembering the silver tree in his childhood home, Jackson threw a party and invited his guests to bring the “most aesthetically challenged” ornaments they could find.
That was the beginning of the Aluminum Tree & Ornament Museum (ATOM). Jackson was given a second tree in 1998, “unearthed at a yard sale.” Over the years, the project “snowballed as friends nabbed more trees from flea markets and dusty attics.”
The 2019 ATOM exhibit at the Transylvania Heritage Museum continues on days the main museum is open – Wednesday-Saturday (except on Thanksgiving), through Dec. 21. Admission is free but donations are appreciated.
A visit is recommended as a “whimsical and wacky adventure…a fun, quirky holiday outing that will make you smile and brighten your day,” according to RomanticAsheville.com, an independent travel guide. Brevard is located about 35 miles south of Asheville.