One of the Christmas holiday symbols of the 1950s started its decline in popularity in the mid-1960s. Families charting their course on the postwar New Frontier counted the aluminum Christmas tree as one of the trendy cultural items of the space age. Strangely enough, a television cartoon helped blast it into eventual retro-chic status during Christmas 1965.
Manufacturers included aluminum in everything from Naval vessels to beer cans during mid-century, and so it wasn’t a stretch to create an artificial Christmas tree out of the material. The Aluminum Specialty Company of Manitowoc, Wisconsin ranked as one of the top makers of aluminum trees, cranking out a million of them between 1959 and 1969. You could buy one for $25 dollars, color wheel included.
Thirty years later, the aluminum Christmas tree had transformed into such a symbol of bad taste, that it could be purchased at yard sales for 25 cents. A wish to return to a more simple, authentic holiday led families to replace the metallic tree with real trees, or at least green ones. The 1965 hit animated TV special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” saw it as a sign of the commercialization of Christmas at the cost of spirituality. In the show, the main character opts for a mere collection of bare branches nailed to a wooden support over a shiny, modern, aluminum tree. By 1967, the once cutting-edge holiday decoration had all but disappeared.
Aluminum trees staged a comeback, and achieved iconic design status over the years. They may not be welcome in suburban living rooms anymore, but they are viewed as popular curiosities in places like the Childrens’ Museum of Indianapolis, IN, which displays an aluminum tree among such items as a steam engine and a dinosaur exhibit.