Thursday, October 21, 2021

A Brief History of Halloween Decorations

This year it is estimated that Americans will spend a record $10 billion on Halloween candy, decorations, and costumes. As hard as it might be to believe, this was not always the case. Not only is trick or treating a relatively recent development, but so too is decorating for Halloween. In fact, while trick or treating emerged in the late 1920s and the 1930s, decorating the outside of one's house for Halloween wouldn't really emerge until the late 20th Century.

Halloween was brought to the United States by Scottish immigrants in the 19th Century, and initially it was celebrated only in Scottish American and Irish American communities. By the late 1880s the celebration had started to spread beyond these communities. By the 1900s Halloween was being celebrated so widely across the United States that commercially produced Halloween decorations finally became available. At the time Halloween was a holiday primarily celebrated by adults, so the earliest Halloween decorations differed a bit from many of those available now. First, they were meant for indoor use only. Outdoor Halloween decorations had not yet been introduced. If for whatever reason one wanted to decorate the outdoors for Halloween, they would have likely used such home-made Halloween decorations as jack o'lanterns or scarecrows. Second, the earliest Halloween decorations were made of paper and were expected to be disposable. They were not necessarily meant to be used year after year.

Initially these paper Halloween decorations were largely manufactured in Germany, but American companies would get in on the action soon enough. Dennison Manufacturing Company was a manufacturer of paper products founded in 1844. It was in the 1900s that they began manufacturing paper Halloween decorations. In fact, their decorations would prove so popular that in 1909 they published their first Dennison's Bogie Book for Halloween. A new edition would be published in 1912. Except for years of World War I, Dennison's Bogie Book for Halloween would be published annually until 1934.

A Beistle joined skeleton
Dennison was by no means the only manufacturer of paper Halloween decorations in the United States. The Beistle  Company was founded in 1900. It was in 1920 that they first started making paper Halloween decorations. Their decorations proved so popular that by 1928 Beistle was even making games for Halloween. It was in the 1930s that the Beistle Company introduced one of their most popular items, a jointed skeleton. Over the years The Beistle Company made many of the Halloween decorations seen in classrooms across the United States. What is more, the Beistle Company still exists to this day and is still owned by the Beistle family. They are now the oldest continuing manufacturer or party goods and seasonal decorations in the United States.

It would the introduction of a new custom called trick or treating in the late Twenties that would largely change the character of Halloween in the United States. The first reference to trick or treating is in the November 4 1927 issue of the Herald (published in Lethbridge, Alberta) in the article "'Trick or Treat' is the Demand." Trick or treating appears to have spread from Canada to the western United States and then moved eastwards. By the late Thirties kids were trick or treating across the country.  Celebrated primarily by adults at the start of the 20th Century, trick or treating transformed Halloween into a holiday celebrated by children.

Decorating for Halloween began to take off several years after the end of World War II, largely due to a new technology. Blow molding is a process through which one can create hollow shapes made of plastic. The basic principles behind blow molding comes from glassblowing, a process which has existed for centuries.  It was in 1938 that Enoch Ferngren and William Kopitke created a blow molding machine, which they then sold to to Hartford Empire Company in 1938. Products manufactured using blow molding remained limited until various advances were made in the technology. Blow molding then finally began to take off in the Fifties.

A 1968 Empire Jack o'lantern bucket
with flashlight inside
It was the introduction of the pink flamingo in 1957 that spurred the popularity of blow mold decorations. Don Featherstone was hired by Union Products Inc. to create three-dimensional, blow mold decorations in the shape of animals. His second assignment was to create a blow mold flamingo. The pink flamingo proved extremely popular with families in the late Fifties and spurred the popularity of blow mold decorations in general. Seasonal blow mold decorations emerged in the wake of the pink flamingo, including Christmas decorations introduced in the late Fifties. Several companies took advantage of the blow mold craze sweeping the nation, including Empire Plastics Inc.,  Bernard Edward Co. (later called Beco), Poloron Products, Dapo, General Foam, and many others.

It was in the early to mid-Sixties that blow mold Halloween decorations emerged. Among the most popular were blow mold trick or treat buckets, but by the end of the decade there was a wide variety of blow mold Halloween decorations. Jack o' lanterns, haunted houses, ghosts, and other decorations were being manufactured by the late Sixties. The outdoor decorations (and even some indoor decorations) almost always included a light inside, so that they could be seen at night. Blow mold Halloween decorations remained popular through the Eighties, although gradually they would being to decline in popularity. That having been said, in the 2020s they seem to be making a comeback.

An inflatable jack o' lantern
It was the dawn of the 21st Century that saw the introduction of yet another sort of seasonal decoration. The novelty company Gemmy Industries had been founded in 1984. It was in August 2000 that they conceived a new sort of outdoor Christmas decoration. Their idea was an eight foot, inflatable Santa Claus. It was with this Santa Claus that Gemmy launched their Airblown Inflatables line in 2001. Their inflatable Santa Claus would be followed by other Christmas decorations, as well as Halloween decorations. Gemmy's Airblown Inflatables would prove to be popular in the 2000s, so that other companies followed them into the manufacture of inflatable decorations. A wide variety of Halloween decorations were and still are being produced. Inflatables of jack o'lanterns, ghosts, skeletons, witches, and other figures associated with Halloween have been made, as have inflatables associated with such licensed properties as The Nightmare Before Christmas, Disney, Scooby Doo, and others. While inflatables declined a bit in popularity in the Teens, they can still be seen around the country every year around Halloween.

Halloween decorations have evolved over the years. Paper decorations of the sort manufactured by Beistle have remained popular for indoor decorations over the years. Blow mold decorations became wildly popular from the Sixties to the Eighties and then declined in popularity, but appear to be making a comeback. Inflatables aren't as popular as they once were, but could one day make a comeback. One thing is for certain. People probably won't ever stop decorating for Halloween.

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