Located in the heart of New York City, the Rockefeller Center is a large complex consisting of 19 high rise commercial buildings. It was named after John D. Rockefeller Jr. and it is the largest private building project ever undertaken in modern times.
John D. Rockefeller Jr. leased the land in 1928, a year before the stock market crash of 1929. He planned to build a showcase development that would have the Metropolitan Opera as its centerpiece. However, in 1929 he was forced to change his plan due to the stock market crash.
The construction of Rockefeller Center started in May 1930 and was completed 9 years later. During this period of economic crisis in the United States, the project created 75,000 jobs, which were greatly significant for its workers.
In the early construction phases of Rockefeller Center, a group of workers erected a large, 20-foot Christmas tree on the lot of the project decorating it with cranberries, paper garlands, and few tin cans. They weren’t aware that by doing so they had started a tradition that became an iconic symbol of the holiday season.
However, the first tree lighting ceremony took place in 1933 and the 50 footer featured 1200 lights that year. In 1936 a skating rink was opened below the tree and a skating pageant was held there.
In 1942, during the World War II, three small Christmas trees were erected – each decorated in one of the flag’s colors, in support of the country’s efforts in the war. The tree stayed unlit in 1944 due to blackout regulations.
In 1951 NBC televised the tree lighting with a special on “The Kate Smith Show”. This had introduced the tradition of television coverage of the event. From 1953-1955 the show was broadcasted on the “Howdy Doody Show”.
Trees are constantly donated to the Rockefeller Center and for most of its history, the tree has been a Norwegian Spruce from upstate New York and the surrounding states.
However, in 1966 the tree came from Canada in honor of Canada’s 100th anniversary of its Confederation.
The 1971 tree was the first to be mulched, recycled and turned into 30 three-bushel bags of mulch for the nature trails of upper Manhattan.
The 1999 tree that came from Killingworth, Connecticut was Rockefeller Center’s tallest tree. It was a record 100 feet Norway spruce. Following the events of September 11th, 2001 the tree was again decorated in hues of red, white and blue.
The 2016 tree, a Norway Spruce is the second tallest ever erected at Rockefeller Center at 94 feet high.
The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center became a tourist attraction over the years and according to Rockefeller Center, more than a half million people pass by the tree each day while it is on display.