The early years of the 20th century saw a growing public interest in electric Christmas tree lighting. In the beginning the lights were considered just a novelty, but as more and more cities were wired for electricity, the advantages of electric tree lighting became obvious. General Electric offered the first sets to the public, followed closely by the National Ever Ready Company (still known today for their Eveready brand batteries). A man by the name of Albert Sadacca and his two brothers, Henri and Leon, had started a lighting company in about 1914, and their business was beginning to grow rapidly in the area of decorative Christmas lighting. Louis Szel, an executive with the Five Seas Trading Company, had been importing beautiful figural Christmas lights from Austria into the United States since 1909 and was also enjoying a good bit of success. Other companies in business at the time included the M. Propp Company, C.D. Wood Electric, The Interstate Electric Novelty Company (later known as Franco) and the Henry Hyman Company.

Prior to 1925, the American electric Christmas lighting industry was also made up of many smaller decorative electric lights to an increasingly eager public.  Trade magazines of the day are filled with

wonderful advertisements, explaining to every hardware store owner who read those journals the virtues of selling the novel "new" electric Christmas lights to their customers. Many shop owners listened, and soon hundreds of expensive lighting outfits were being sold.

Commonly sold series lighting outfits of the day were available in sets of 8, 16, 24 or 32 lights. An eight light set was barely enough to light a table top sized tree, while various numbers of lights were required to accommodate other tree sizes. Lighting dealers were encouraged to carry all four sizes in order to offer the widest variety to their customers. The sets were quite expensive, and it was a bit of an economic gamble for dealers to carry a big variety and risk having a large quantity remaining unsold at the end of the season.

A crude form of extension box had been available for several years which allowed sets to be adjusted for the number of light strings connected to it, but it was not the most practical of devices. The box allowed additional festoons of eight lights each to be added by opening it up, and connecting wires to the appropriate places.

In 1921, Lester Haft of the C.D. Wood Electric Company filed a patent application for a device and method of allowing additional festoons of lights to be easily connected to one another. See Lester Haft and His 1924 Patent on this site for more information about this pivotal patent. The benefits of Haft's patent were immediately obvious, and most of the companies then in the Christmas lighting business either licensed the rights to incorporate the device in their own strings or defied the pending patent, hoping the application would not be approved. But Haft's patent was granted in 1924, a defining year for the Christmas lighting industry.

Once the patent was granted, everyone using almost any form of a festoon-to-festoon connector now had to purchase licenses from C.D. Wood Electric in order to incorporate the device into their Christmas lighting strings. One company, the M. Propp organization, challenged the patent and lost. Small companies, who chose not to pay for the license prior to the patent being granted, found themselves strapped for cash as sales plummeted. Many of the companies gave in, and licensed the rights to use the connectors in their strings.

The time was right. The Sadacca Brothers, Albert, Henri and Leon, proposed that a trade organization be started, whereby any company who wanted to would be able to join, reducing licensing and advertising costs to everyone. The brothers, along with Louis Szel were to head up the association, aptly named The National Outfit Manufacturer's Association, and it was officially started early in 1925. Accounts of the number of companies who joined vary from thirteen to fifteen, but I do know that these companies were involved: The C.D. Wood Electric company, Szel's Five Seas Trading Company, The Tinsel Corporation of America, The Matchless Corporation, the decorative lighting division of Deal Electric, Franco, the decorative lighting division of Monowatt and The Henry Hyman Company. The United States Electric Company, better known as USALITE, joined for a short time but then broke away. A major holdout was the M. Propp Company, who continued (for a time, at least) on their own.

The Association was a great success. Smaller companies enjoyed the influx of cash brought by Association membership, and business for the Christmas selling season of 1925 was very good for everyone. Though the companies were members of the association under the NOMA name, they continued selling under their own identities. Late in 1926, it was proposed and accepted by the association members that they officially merge into one company, and the famous NOMA Electric Corporation was born. The American Christmas lighting industry was to be changed forever.

In Christmas of 1927, NOMA Electric sold products under that new name for the first time. Aggressively marketed and advertised, the company enjoyed stellar sales. In 1928, the M. Propp Company finally agreed to merge with NOMA, operated independently for a while, and finally sold out completely to the company in 1929.  Interestingly, Morris Propp, the owner and founder of the company that was once NOMA's largest competitor, became the president of NOMA Electric in 1931. He held that position until his untimely death of a brain tumor in 1933.

The formation of NOMA Electric dramatically reduced the number of decorative lighting companies in business in 1927. As the market leader, NOMA began to offer a huge variety of electrical decorative accessories and lighting outfits to the public, and set the competitive example for other lighting companies to follow. Through their years of operation, NOMA Electric developed and/or marketed many "firsts", including the Tri-Plug connector (this differs from the Tatchon devices in that the Tatchons are typically found at the end of the string rather than on the wall plug itself), the adjustable berry bead fasteners to allow proper positioning of lights on the tree (acquired in the merger with Propp), intermediate base outfits for outdoor decorating, bubble lights, and the safety fuse plug (still in use today). Below is a brief timeline of some of the important events in the history of NOMA Electric Incorporated:


































Beginning in 1927, the NOMA Electric Corporation began advertising their new products in popular women's magazines and trade publications. The company proudly stated that they used only MAZDA trademarked lamps in their outfits, primarily purchased from General Electric. Westinghouse also licensed the MAZDA trademark, but Westinghouse lamps seemed to be more often included in NOMA's competitor's products. The company enjoyed great success through 1928, and was heavily geared up for the Christmas selling season of 1929 when disaster struck.

On October 29, 1929 the American stock market dramatically crashed. Within the first few hours of the Market's opening, it fell so far as to wipe out all the gains that had been made in the previous year. Since the Stock Market was viewed as the chief indicator of the health of the American economy, public confidence was understandably shattered. Between October 29 and November 13 (when stock prices hit their lowest point) over 30 billion dollars had disappeared from the American economy. It was to take nearly twenty-five years for many stocks to recover.

Suddenly, far fewer families could afford luxuries like electric Christmas lights, let alone find the money to pay the electric bill. Food, clothing and shelter became the priority, and Christmas celebrations were soon to become mere ghosts of what they once were for many families. With the Crash beginning just two days before NOMA's third selling season began, the outlook was bleak.

Every American company had their work cut out for them, but especially NOMA. Realistically speaking, the Company did not make goods considered essential for day to day living. To make matters worse, the Company's business was largely seasonal, consisting of many months of pure manufacturing, all for a mere three months worth of selling.

Company President Morris Propp directed that NOMA Electric immediately increase the Company's advertising efforts, emphasizing the importance of a properly celebrated Christmas in trying times such as these. Ad copies were filled with warm and cozy family scenes, with children happily gathered around a well lit tree.

The advertisements worked. NOMA enjoyed surprisingly strong sales in 1929 and 1930, and continued to do well through the Depression years. The company management showed excellent flexibility, responding to changing market conditions and consumer trends with aplomb. NOMA catalogs during this time were colorful, well laid out, and each year brought new products and innovations. It seemed that NOMA alone was keeping the Christmas lighting industry vitalized, and other, smaller companies scrambled to keep up with them. It was actually during these years that NOMA firmly established itself as the leading Christmas light manufacturer in the world. 

With the advent of World War II in 1941, all American companies, NOMA included, turned their attentions to the War effort. Due to wartime materials restrictions, NOMA and the other lighting companies then in business were unable to make Christmas lights. Advertisements from the company in Life magazine declared that "With Peace, NOMA Christmas lighting products would be back..." NOMA was able to manufacture a line of wooden toys during the War years, and also, surprisingly, manufactured bombs and fireworks under their newly-formed Triumph Industries division. It is ironic to note that NOMA-manufactured bombs were used in the War to heavily damage many Japanese factories, figural Christmas light factories included. Those same factories would later rebuild, and their products, imported quite cheaply in the 1950s and 60s, were to become one of the major factors in the eventual bankruptcy of NOMA Lites, Incorporated.

Along with the manufacture of War materials and goods, NOMA also made a line of wooden toys, called NOMA Woodies, during the War years. Consisting of non-restricted materials, the toys were inexpensive to make and filled a strong need during the years when toys were hard to come by.

Henri Sadacca had done quite well in leading his company through the Great Depression and World War II, and the postwar years were to be some of the most profitable ever for the Company. In 1946, NOMA first marketed the wildly successful Bubble Lites, once again changing the American Christmas lighting industry forever. See the  Bubble Lights section of this website for a detailed history of the development of these fascinating lights.

A war-weary public, tired of having to make-do with their old Christmas lights, eagerly snapped up almost every lighting set NOMA could make in 1946 and 1947, and the company enjoyed two sellout years before they could finally begin to catch up with demand in 1948. NOMA was now ordering more than 85 million  lamps a year from General Electric alone. Although NOMA had 41 competitors by 1950, they were still able to hold on to more than 35% of the electric Christmas lighting market, an astounding market share that any company in business today would be thrilled to be able to accomplish.

In 1953, Business Week magazine interviewed Henri Sadacca, Chairman of the Board of NOMA Electric Corporation, and Joseph A. Ward, President of NOMA LITES Incorporated. NOMA Electric had created their new Christmas light division, NOMA Lites, in order to keep that business separate from their many other divisions in operation at the time.

During the War years, Sadacca had been buying up different companies, running them all under the NOMA Electric Corporation umbrella. Some of these companies included the Ansonia Electrical Company (electric wire and cable), the previously mentioned Triumph Industries (bombs, munitions and fireworks), the Estate Stove Company (electric and gas ranges), the Refrigeration Corporation of America (home freezers), Effanbee Incorporated (among their products was Noma, the talking doll), and the Ward Heater Company (home heating equipment). NOMA Lites Incorporated carried on NOMA Electric Corporation's Christmas lighting and decoration business under the direction of Ward, who was personally selected for the task by Sadacca.

Also during this time, Sadacca started an independent plastics molding plant, which supplied the plastic light shades, decorations and novelty item components to NOMA Lites. It was called TICO Plastics, was named after Henri Sadacca's nephew Tico, and was owned by Leon Sadacca, Henri's brother. The factory did quite well.  In the mid 50s, Saul Blitz took over the company in a leveraged buy out, and it became financially independent of NOMA  Electric Corporation and NOMA Lites Incorporated. The factory continued in operation at 55 West 13th Street in New York City until 1971.

Along with the plastic parts used in NOMA Christmas decorations, TICO Plastics made children's toys. Leslie Blitz, Saul's son, recently wrote to me remembering how he went to the plastics plant on Saturdays with his father, where the place was like his own private toy land. Leslie fondly remembers the NOMA squirt guns, and was allowed to bring home a new one every Saturday. The plant made numerous plastic products that were non-Christmas related, including parts for the famous NOMA Talking Train Station, and the plastic body pieces for the Effanbee talking doll appropriately named Noma.

At the time of the incorporation of NOMA Lites, the company had more than 4000 accounts and thirteen warehouses. The main manufacturing plant was now in Saint Joseph, Missouri, and during the Christmas manufacturing seasons of 1953, 54 and 55, the company was so busy that many workers opted to sleep at the factory on cots to be easier able to take advantage of all of the overtime work that was being offered. The invention of the Vac-U-Form plastic shaping process made the introduction of new items much easier. Instead of having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to have a mold carved out of metal, the vacuforming process allowed inexpensive plaster molds to be produced. By 1955, NOMA was offering 20 new products every year, with many of them originating in the TICO plastics plant. 

The mid 50s saw the introduction of miniature lights to the American market, produced first in Italy, but later in Japan and other countries as well. These new lighting sets were foremost inexpensive, but satisfied the growing public demand for more lights on a tree without overloading the electric circuit. The earliest outfits were crude by American standards, consisting of twenty or thirty tiny hand blown lamps permanently wired into a thin and delicate string. These imported sets were not UL approved, but began to sell amazingly well despite their poor quality and lack of safety approval. NOMA began to feel the financial strains of competing with these and other imported lamp sets.

Another advantage of these strings of lights was the fact that the lamps each had tiny shunt devices in them, which permitted the string to continue burning despite the failure of one or more lamps. This benefit, in addition to the fact that they were quite novel for the time, contributed greatly to their popularity. NOMA, along with other lighting companies in business at the time, soon countered with their own versions of "expanded" strings of lights.

NOMA's outfit was UL approved, and was of much more substantial quality than the imported outfits, but was also much, much more expensive. The set used a transformer so that each lamp could burn independently, and NOMA also contracted with General Electric to manufacture twinkling lamps for the outfit, so that each lamp twinkled independently on the string. The effect was quite attractive, and the twinkling lamps made merry little pinging sounds as each one flashed on and off. But, the twinkling of the lamp caused severe electrical interference in both television and radio receivers, and soon NOMA had discontinued the set due to poor sales. As the 1950s drew to a close, it was most apparent that American tastes in Christmas lighting were beginning to change dramatically-and permanently.

1959 saw the introduction of the famous aluminum Christmas tree. Since aluminum is a great conductor of electricity,
it was not safe to light the tree with strings of lights, and rotating lights, called color wheels, were used instead. Suddenly, there was no use at all in many homes for the strings of lights up in the attic. Those families that still preferred live or natural looking artificial trees were now using the mini lights, which were being improved all the time. They now had replaceable lamps with either screw-in or push-in bases, and sets of up to 50 lights were being offered. They were a far cry indeed from either the series wired eight light "if one goes out they all go out" type, or the seven light multiple wired sets, both of which were limited to 6 sets per tree. The imported mini lights were far cheaper, and by 1963 were far better sellers than all of the American produced lighting sets combined. NOMA at first tried making their own mini light sets in the United States, but could not compete price wise with the cheaper foreign import sets.

By 1962 the sad handwriting was on the wall: NOMA, the largest Christmas lighting company the world had ever known, was in serious financial trouble. The 1962 NOMA Lites catalog had a prominently featured letter from company president Joseph Ward, pleading for loyalty and continued support from its business customers. It read, in part:

"NOMA is meeting the challenge of the new competitive marketing trends by
inaugurating many new items this year, in addition to an entirely new pricing
concept of NOMA products. This challenge of making you more competitive
than heretofore carries with it a serious obligation....to continue giving the American
public the maximum SAFETY and QUALITY in our products. THIS WILL
CONTINUE TO BE OUR POLICY!

For nearly 40 years NOMA has borne the heavy responsibility of leadership in the
Christmas Lighting Industry. We manufactured hundreds of new items which have
increased consumer demands for Christmas lights and decorations. Our 1962
NOMA line of Christmas lights and decorations will carry on this NOMA
tradition...and, as in the past, every NOMA product will have incorporated in
it the highest American standards of SAFETY, QUALITY and WORKMANSHIP."

The letter fell on deaf ears, for the 1962 selling year was one of the worst in the company's history. It was also to be Joseph Ward's last year as company president. The beginning of the end of the company was not pretty, with lawsuits filed against company executives claiming, among other things, mishandling and unauthorized transactions with regard to the company's stock. Joseph H. Ward, Louis Szel and other board members were sued by Seymour Propp, the son of previous NOMA Electric Corporation president Morris Propp and a major stockholder, over an incident where Ward purchased large amounts of NOMA stock with company funds in the late 1950s. He did this to prevent what he perceived to be a hostile takeover attempt, but did it without the knowledge of the rest of the board. NOMA did not have enough funds to pay for the stock purchase, so once the board found out about the purchase, everyone had to scramble to find a loan big enough to cover the cost. A loan was finally secured, but that new debt only served to complicate NOMA's already shaky financial position. Court proceedings cleared most of the Board of Directors from any wrongdoing in the matter, but did hold both Sadacca and Ward liable for illegal stock purchases with company funds.

In 1963, the company catalog featured a letter identical to the one that Mr. Ward had written, but with the following words added to the end:

"This year, with the revitalization of our company, we expect to create even greater
 consumer demand for our products than ever before."

The letter was signed by the new company president, Morris Goldman. A look through the uninspired 1963 catalog shows a surprising amount of merchandise that was obviously purchased by NOMA from competing companies, ones that had either already gone out of business or were in the process of doing so. Most notably, the famous NOMA biscuit shaped bubble light was gone, and had been replaced by a style previously sold by Peerless. Sales for 1963 and 1964 were dismal.

In 1965, NOMA Lites Incorporated officially filed for bankruptcy. The end of the largest Christmas light manufacturer in the world had come, due in large part to foreign competition, and the failure of company management to react quickly enough to a changing market. Late in that year, the company was reorganized as NOMA Worldwide, and offered a huge amount of both leftover merchandise and imported goods, not at all equaling the quality of the company's offerings in previous years. Below is a picture of one of the last light sets that NOMA offered in 1965. The string was American made, but instead of proudly proclaiming the inclusion of American made lamps, the box simply says "with long life NOMA quality lamps", which was a careful way of covering up the fact that the NOMA brand lamps were Japanese imports.

By 1967, the NOMA name had been dropped, and the remaining company was known simply as Worldwide, Incorporated.

In the years since 1967, the NOMA trademark has been bought and sold many times. The once great company now exists in name only in the United States, as a licensed trademark. ( In the UK, NOMA exists as Noma Lites Ltd, and continues to hold the torch). Many products have been marketed with the NOMA name on them in the past 35 years, and the name is now is licensed by the Inliten Company in the US. You can visit their website by CLICKING HERE. You can visit the NOMA UK site HERE.

The NOMA Story © George Nelson 2010

NOMA
Company Profile

NOMA Electric Corporation

Currently NOMA International, Inc. (Brand Only)

Founded

Closed

Headquarters

Industry

Products

1926

1968 (Company)

Glenview, IL 60025

Christmas Decor

Lights, Artificial Trees, Ornaments, Decor, Illuminated Figures

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