September 1, 2014

Aluminum trees shine in the colored spotlight

Aluminum trees

Aluminum trees (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Remember those shiny futuristic-looking aluminum Christmas trees? Wisconsin Historical Museum curator Joe Kapler reminds us that novelty item was made in Wisconsin. It’s a huge industrial success story for the state. “I’m surprised,” he says, “A lot of people don’t realize that the Evergleam is solely a Wisconsin product.”

The Aluminum Specialty Company of Manitowoc, Wisconsin made the Evergleam tree. It debuted in 1959 and was produced through 1972. This unique holiday decoration was marketed as being easy to assemble, pack up, and store. It didn’t have to be watered, maintained, or decorated.

It wasn’t intended to mimic a tree, Kapler says; instead, it was meant to stand out in the crowd. “These are not artificial trees; it’s an aluminum Christmas tree. It’s something different,” Kapler says, “It’s not meant to fake you out like later plastic and vinyl painted green artificial trees, which were done for convenience. This is something else and you can call it sculpture if you wanted to.”

More than one million Evergleams, in a variety of colors and sizes, made their way to American homes in the 1960s. Kapler says the aluminum tree is a really big Wisconsin story of innovation and holiday nostalgia.

AUDIO: Kapler says the Museum wants to acquire trees that were not only made in Wisconsin, but  also used here. And, he says, he’d be thrilled to receive old photos of families posing with their Wisconsin-made Evergleam tree. :16

Curator Joe Kapler describes how the packaging has changed to make the box smaller and easier to ship, carry, and store.

Curator Joe Kapler describes how the Aluminum Specialty Company streamlined its packaging to make the box easier to ship, carry, and store. (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Kapler says millions of pots and pans, utensils, and toys were made in Manitowoc over the years and shipped nationwide, but it’s not necessarily how the Aluminum Specialty Company will be remembered. “The Evergleam Christmas tree may end up being that legacy.”

Critics proclaimed the aluminum trees were symbols of the commercialization of Christmas. In fact, Lucy referenced the tree in the TV special: A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965, the peak of its popularity. But Charlie chose a real — but skimpy — tree to represent the true spirit of Christmas.

A couple dozen vintage silver, pink, gold and green aluminum trees of various sizes, along with rotating tree stands and colored light projectors, are currently on display at the Wisconsin Historical Museum in downtown Madison in what’s billed as the largest collection of Evergleams ever available to the public.

‘Tis the Season is on exhibit through January 11, 2014. There’s no admission fee to the museum, however a small donation is very much appreciated. More info here.

AUDIO: Jackie Johnson report 2:05