American Made Christmas Lights?
Update, October 2014: As one of our most popular articles over the years, we felt it important to update our readers that it is still true that there is still no U.S. manufacture of Christmas lights. But while you can't buy "made in the USA" lights, you can buy from a quality U.S. company who works with high quality and responsible overseas suppliers. Learn more in our article, "Christmas Lights from China—the Ethics of Illumination."
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If you are reading this article you may be one of the many people we talk to each year who are in search of a Christmas light set that is made in the United States. This article is not the secret key to finding American made Christmas lights and YES our Christmas lights are made in China but it does explore the history of the Christmas light manufacturing industry in the United States as well as some of the issues and concerns consumers have about Chinese made products.
Are Any Christmas Lights Made in the United States?
Since I know that much of my audience has only read this far in the hopes of finding a source for American made Christmas lights I will address that issue first. I have been responsible for purchasing Christmas lighting for HolidayLEDs.com for four years now and have learned a lot about the holiday lighting industry. In preparation to write this article I spoke to representatives of the largest Christmas lighting companies in the U.S. The individuals I spoke with have over 60 years combined experience in the Christmas lighting industry. If anyone in the world would know of a source for American made Christmas lights these two people would and to their knowledge there is no U.S. manufacture of Christmas lights. However, I didn't stop there. I conducted my own search for an American made holiday light set. Using several different search terms I scoured the internet for anyone who sold Christmas lights made in America. I found none. (Actually, I found one blog post which had a link to a company that allegedly sold American made Christmas lights. The company is called The Lights Before Christmas and the link to their site provided by the blog post is broken.)
The industry experts don't know of anyone who makes Christmas lights in the United States and neither does Google or Yahoo! so I feel comfortable saying that there are no U.S. manufacturers of Christmas lights.
Why Aren't Christmas Lights Made in America?
There are a number of reasons that Christmas lights are not currently manufactured in the United States but before we examine the current manufacturing environment for holiday lighting it is important to have some historical prospective.
Christmas lights were invented in the United States in the 1920's and were manufactured here by several companies including General Electric. In fact, until the early 1960's an American company was the largest manufacturer of Christmas lights in the world. The NOMA Company prospered making Christmas lights in the U.S. until it lost most of its business to foreign competitors who were able to manufacture the light sets for less money. Because the manufacturing of Christmas lights involves many processes that cannot be automated, companies located in countries where manual labor was cheap began to dominate the market. The American consumer wants more for less--it's really that simple. In order to give the American consumer the value they have come to demand, manufacturer's of Christmas lights and other products were forced to look abroad for cheaper sources of labor.
Currently, the majority of Christmas lights are made in China because that country has a large pool of relatively cheap labor and large supplies of the raw materials needed to manufacture Christmas lights such as copper. However, this will likely change in the next decade or so as China's economic success has pushed wages up and there is no longer such a large excess supply of labor.
My industry experts estimated that the cost to manufacture the light sets sold by HolidayLEDs.com would more than triple if it were made in the United States. This would likely price any American made LED Christmas lights out of the market.
What's Wrong with Chinese Made Christmas Lights?
Consumer objections to Chinese made products including Christmas lights are varied and range from valid concerns over work conditions and child labor to wholly unsubstantiated concerns about Christian slave labor. Others object to purchasing foreign made goods because they believe it causes the loss of American jobs. A third common concern relates to the safety of Chinese made products.
Child Labor Concerns
Informed consumers should be concerned about the working conditions and labor practices of the companies they buy products from. Child labor abuse is a serious problem and should not be tolerated by anyone. However, most reputable American companies who import products from China conduct regular audits of their suppliers to ensure that the facilities that manufacture their products comply with strict regulations. One the of the requirements is that the foreign factories comply with western child labor laws. The manufacturer of our products does not use child labor.
Loss of American Jobs
Since the early days in America we have used foreign labor to do jobs that Americans did not want to do or were unwilling to do. The earliest and probably most common example of this was the use of Chinese immigrant labor to build the first transcontinental railroad. As the American economy developed and grew and we entered the industrial revolution much of the manufacturing was done in the United States. However, as our economy matured, new technologies were developed, and our labor forces became more sophisticated it became necessary to move production of products that required unskilled labor abroad in order to remain competitive. However, although much of the unskilled labor involved in the production of the products we consumed moved abroad, our economy grew in new areas including technology and software development, e-commerce, and information technology. All of the major corporations of the internet age such as Google, Amazon.com, and Microsoft and are American companies.
The efforts of American companies, workers and consumers should not be wasted trying to find ways to force American companies to manufacture products that require unskilled labor in the U.S. This is not a reasonable or obtainable goal. Instead, our efforts should be focused on developing and expanding businesses and jobs in the U.S. which cannot be done abroad.
Safety of Chinese Made Products
The relative safety of Chinese or other foreign made products has become an increasing concern as several Chinese made products have been found to contain hazardous or toxic chemicals. This is also a very legitimate concern especially for products such as children's toys or pet items. In order to ensure that the products you buy are safe you should be sure that the product complies with any applicable U.S. standards body requirements. For example, Underwriters Laboratory (UL) is the primary safety standards body in the U.S. for the certification of consumer electronics. All of our LED Christmas lights are UL approved.
We strongly believe in supporting the American economy and try to purchase American made products whenever possible. However, in many cases American made products simply aren't available. Producing Christmas lights in the United States is not feasible now and probably will not be in the future so we are focused on helping the Michigan and U.S. economies by growing our business and hiring new employees.