The Short Life—and Awesome Resurgence—of the Aluminum Christmas Tree

For a short window in the 1960s, aluminum Christmas trees gleamed in living rooms nationwide—but this glorious, glittering reign would be all too brief. Within the decade, they were relegated to the curb as aesthetic tastes shifted. But nostalgia has fueled an aluminum tree renaissance in recent years. Here's a brief history.

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN

The craze started in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, in 1959. As with all grand advances in civilization, the credit goes to those who made them commercially viable—and the Ford of the aluminum tree was the Aluminum Specialty Company, based in the small, blue-collar city on Lake Michigan.

According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, Tom Gannon, toy sales manager for the Aluminum Specialty Company, saw a metal tree in a store window during a visit to Chicago in 1958. Modern Coatings, Inc., had a patent on them, but its version was expensive and bulky. Gannon brought the idea back to his engineers, who made the trees cheaper—the price went from $75 to $85 down to $25—as well as easier to mass produce and easier to put up and break down. Aluminum Specialty took a gamble and produced hundreds of thousands for the following Christmas, eventually branding it the “Evergleam.”

Soon after, several aluminum manufacturers found themselves in the Christmas business, and the trees were everywhere, ranging from tabletop models to eight feet tall; silver was popular, but they came in a variety of colors. Trees were paired with spotlights and color wheels that made them twinkle in rotating hues. In one popular variation, the needles erupted into a kind of pompom at the tip of each rigid branch, like shooting stars.

And then came Charlie Brown, and he ruined everything.

HOW CHARLIE BROWN KILLED THE ALUMINUM CHRISTMAS TREE

"Rec Room Christmas" from from the book "Season's Gleamings: The Art of the Aluminum Christmas Tree" © J. Shimon & J. Lindemann 2004

It might sound strange, but 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas has been partially blamed for the decline of the aluminum tree. As you may recall, when Charlie Brown is going to buy a tree, Lucy tells him to “get the biggest aluminum tree you can find Charlie Brown. Maybe paint it pink!” Grappling with holiday depression, Linus and Charlie Brown mock the aluminum trees and go with the small natural tree instead.

The aluminum tree had become a symbol of everything that had gone wrong with Christmas. Sales tapered off, and then, by the 1970s, they were gone. And yet…

THE SILVER TREE RESURGENCE

In the last 10 years or so, aluminum trees have reemerged. Popping up at estate sales and thrift stores, they’ve developed an enthusiastic following. Much of the renewed interest was sparked by Wisconsin artists John Shimon and Julie Lindemann, who both grew up near Manitowoc, and in 2004 published the photography book Season’s Gleamings: The Art of the Aluminum Christmas Tree, showcasing the trees’ history and their own collection.

Aluminum Christmas trees are now collectors' items, holiday trophies for modernist design enthusiasts. They sell on eBay for hundreds of dollars, with a rare pink model once going for more than $3600. There’s definitely a kitsch appeal. But while they were once seen as a cold threat to the true spirit of Christmas, for a lot of people, they’ve become ageless symbols of holiday Americana.

“Fifty, sixty years on, the Evergleam is now a warm, nostalgic memory, fondly recalled,” said Joe Kapler, a historian who curates a recurring exhibit on the trees at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. “It’s funny how that works out.”

5 Simple Ways to Upgrade Your Green Bean Casserole

iStock.com/bhofack2
iStock.com/bhofack2

Green bean casserole became a fixture of Thanksgiving spreads shortly after Dorcas Reilly invented the dish in 1955. The classic recipe, which includes Campbell’s condensed cream of mushroom soup and French’s French fried onions, is a sacred piece of Americana—but there's nothing stopping you from playing around with it this Thanksgiving. Just brace yourself for skeptical looks from your more traditional relatives when these variations hit the table.

1. USE HOMEMADE FRIED ONION RINGS.

Green bean casserole typically calls for crispy fried onion bits from a can—and that's fine if you're pressed for time on the big day. But if you're looking to make your casserole taste unforgettable, it's hard to beat to fresh onion rings fried at home. Homemade onion rings are more flavorful than the store-bought stuff and they provide an eye-popping topper for your dish. If you're interested in making onion rings part of your Thanksgiving menu, this recipe from delish will walk you through it.

2. ADD SOME GOUDA.

This recipe from Munchies gives the all-American green bean casserole some European class with shallots, chanterelles, and smoked gouda. Some family members may object to adding a pungent cheese to this traditional dish, but tell them to wait until after they taste it to judge.

3. LIGHTEN IT UP.

As is the case with any recipe that calls for a can of creamy condensed soup, green bean casserole is rarely described as a "light" bite. Some people like the heavy richness of the dish, but if you're looking to give diners a lighter alternative, this recipe from Food52 does the trick. Instead of cream of mushroom soup, it involves a dressing of crème fraîche, sherry vinegar, mustard, and olive oil. Hazelnuts and chives provide the crunch in place of fried onions. It may be more of a salad than a true casserole, but the spirit of the classic recipe is alive in this dish.

4. MIX IN SOME BACON.

Looking to make your green bean casserole even more indulgent this Thanksgiving? There are plenty of recipes out there that will help you do so. This "jazzed-up" version from Taste of Home includes all the conventional ingredients of a green bean casserole with some inspired additions. Crumbled bacon and water chestnuts bring the crunch, and Velveeta ups the cheesy decadence factor to an 11.

5. TURN IT INTO A TART.

If your Thanksgiving menu is looking heavy on the side dishes, consider making your green bean casserole into an appetizer. This green bean and mushroom tart from Thanksgiving & Co. has all the flavors of the traditional casserole baked on an easy-to-eat tart. A tart is also a tasty option if you're looking to repurpose your green bean casserole leftovers the day after.

'Turkey on the Table' Helps You Give Thanks—and Fight Hunger

Turkey on the Table
Turkey on the Table

Between planning a menu and figuring out how to thaw a 20-pound turkey in 48 hours, hosts may not have time to think about much else this Thanksgiving. But Turkey on the Table is a little something extra that's worth the effort: It's a fun way to get guests thinking about what they're grateful for—and it may lead to a new tradition for you and your family.

Turkey on the Table can be displayed in your foyer, on your dining room table, or in any other visible spot in your home. It comes with paper "feathers" with room for you and your guests to each jot down what you're grateful for this year. After filling out a feather, add it to the back of the turkey and keep going until the bird is fully dressed.

You can do this with members of your household, adding one new thing you're grateful for each day leading up to Thanksgiving, or wait until the actual holiday and have your guests fill out the feathers and read them aloud before enjoying the meal. Turkey on the Table—the brainchild of two moms who wanted to teach their young children the importance of gratitude—encourages you to make the activity your own, whether you're using it at home, at work, or in the classroom.

In addition to a knit turkey, a marker, and 13 feathers, each Turkey on the Table kit comes with a picture book telling the story of the tradition. The $40 purchase also provides 10 meals for people in need through Feeding America, the country's largest hunger relief organization. The organization has donated more than 834,000 meals since its inception in 2014, and is aiming to reach 1 million meals in 2018.

Turkey on the Table kits, as well as replacement feathers, can be purchased on the organization's website, at major retailers like Bed, Bath & Beyond, or via Amazon.

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