Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.
TV URBAN LEGEND: The success of A Charlie Brown Christmas drove aluminum Christmas trees out of business.
Over the years, we’ve pointed out some of the interesting commercial connections to Charles Schulz’ famous anti-commercialism TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas (like how the special came about due to ads for Ford and how there was originally an ad for Coca-Cola in the actual story of the special). Today, we look at an often-repeated legend about how A Charlie Brown Christmas was responsible for driving those symbols of mid-20th Century commercialism, the aluminum Christmas trees, out of business.
Famously, in the special, Linus and Charlie Brown are sent to pick out a Christmas tree for the school pageant. Lucy wants Charlie Brown to “get the biggest aluminum tree you can find — maybe paint it pink.” Charlie Brown, instead, buys a puny half dead tree. The other kids mock him for his choice, but after Linus reads to them from the Bible, the kids change their tune and in the end, through care and attention, they spruce his tree up into a beautiful little Christmas tree. Linus famously notes, “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.”
Well, according to a number of articles about A Charlie Brown Christmas, but let’s just pick one of the first results that popped up when I searched for this story. From Smosh.com:
It may only have twelve needles and collapse under the weight of a single ornament before the curative properties of Linus’s blanket rescue it, but Charlie Brown’s twig of a tree single-handedly put an end to a horrible new holiday tradition. Starting in the early 60’s—a period not known for the best decorating trends—people were forgoing real Christmas trees for brightly colorful aluminum ones (think a cheerier Festivus with spray paint), as seen in the tree lot in the TV special. But when viewers saw Charlie Brown stand by his little wooden wonder in the face of ridicule and tree’s own fast-impending mortality, they tossed aside their metallic pink decorations and returned to a more natural choice that also involved sweeping up dead needles from the floor every six seconds.
Is that true?
I tend not to believe it.
The trend got kicked off when a representative of the Mirro Aluminum Company of Manitowoc, Wisconsin came across a metallic Christmas tree in a store in Chicago. At the time, the company was trying to expand their market by designing many different things out of aluminum, including a popular toy sled. So in 1959, they introduced their “Evergleam” aluminum Christmas tree model. The branches were made out of chaff. Chaff is an aluminum substance that, if you release a bunch of it out of the back of an aircraft, can screw up radar readings since all of these little pieces of aluminum are clogging the radar.
Retailing for $25 for a standard “Evergleam” Christmas tree, the aluminum Christmas tree market boomed in the early 1960s. However, right from the get go, there was a major concern from the producers of the trees – they knew that a product like this had a natural saturation point. In business terms, a saturation point is when the growth of the product becomes tied pretty strictly to the population growth only. In other words, once all the people who are interested in buying aluminum Christmas trees buy an aluminum Christmas tree, they are not going to buy any MORE aluminum Christmas trees, since they already have one. Initially, the company was hoping to make enough money to cover their costs after a couple of years and then move on. However, it proved so popular that they were soon producing a hundred thousand of these metallic trees a year. Their peak hit in 1965, the same year A Charlie Brown Christmas aired and therefore, people tend to credit the show with them decreasing and going out of business. However, that’s just how fads like this WORK. They are extremely boom and bust. The people who made the trees knew this going in. In an excellent article on the history of aluminum Christmas trees, Jeni Sandberg explained it beautifully:
Certainly, the more extreme a style, the shorter its life span, and aluminum trees were decidedly not subtle. As the 1960s progressed, tastes changed towards an earthier style and the manufacture of aluminum trees slowed. Evergleam ceased production in 1969, and by the early 1970s aluminum trees were a thing of the past.
I don’t mean to say that the show had no impact on interest in the trees, perhaps it did, but correlation does not cause causation. In other words, unless there is some compelling reason for us to believe that the show had a direct impact on the fad, it should be considered coincidence. And in this particular case, the easiest answer is extremely logical – something debuts in 1959 and burns out in 1965. That’s just a normal sales trend for fads like this.
If anything, the repeated mention of the aluminum Christmas trees every year as A Charlie Brown Christmas airs likely helps keep the memory of the trees alive, as in recent years, interest in classic aluminum Christmas trees has risen, with old trees selling for hundreds (and for the rare pink aluminum trees, THOUSANDS) of dollars. Just like how I don’t think we can blame A Charlie Brown Christmas for the trees going under, though, I certainly can’t say with any certainty that the show has led to this recent interest in the trees, as that, again, is a pretty standard nostalgia arc (things are cool then things are seen as tacky and then decades later people think having the tacky thing is ironically cool).
Anyhow, in the end I’m going with this legend as…
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