The History of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

The grandeur of this year’s 72-foot-tall, 12-ton Norway spruce will be enjoyed by approximately 125 million people, however the roots of Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree tradition run back to 1931, in the height of the Great Depression, when workers pooled their money to buy a 20-foot balsam fir and decorated it with their families’ handmade garland.

Little did these workers know that their festive gesture would spur a decades-long tradition, with this year’s tree lighting marking the 86th annual Rockefeller Center Christmas tree celebration. Over those years, the tradition has experienced several remarkable milestones:

  • In 1942, no materials needed for the war could be used, so the giant tree was substituted with three smaller trees, decorated red, white, and blue.
  • In 1944, the tree was never lit due to war time blackouts.
  • In 1951, the tree lighting became nationally televised by NBC.
  • The tree was first recycled in 1971.
  • In 1998, the tree, typically transported on a truck bed, was flown in on the world’s largest transport plane.
  • 1999 saw a record-setting 100-foot tree from Killingworth, Connecticut.
  • In 2004, a 550-pound Swarovski star was added to the top.
  • In 2007, Rockefeller Center installed energy-saving LED lights, saving enough power each day to heat a 2,000 square foot home for a month.

Today, cities and states take pride in their tree being featured at Rockefeller Center, with this year’s tree coming from State College, Pennsylvania. After the tree comes down on January 7th, it is milled, treated, and made into lumber that is donated to Habitat for Humanity to build homes.

Photos via Rockefeller Center.

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