The History Of The Rockefeller Tree
Sunday, December 13th, 2015 | Monifa Barker

Heralded as a prominent New York City landmark, the broad complex of 19 commercial buildings which makes up the world-famous Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan is the glimmering fruition of John D. Rockefeller's vision of building "a city within a city." Featuring over 100 upscale shops, fine restaurants, art centers, entertainment fixtures, Rockefeller Center remains the desired destination for out-of-towners and New Yorkers alike.

On Wednesday, December 2nd thousands of spectators gathered for the 83rd annual Rockefeller Christmas Tree lighting at Rockefeller Plaza while millions watched the NBC Broadcast—hosted by 30 Rock's Jane Krakowski—from their homes. Last year's ceremony featured hosts like  "Today" anchors Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie, Al Roker, and Natalie Morales. The Rockefeller Christmas tree will remain on display, proudly shining, until January 9th, 9 pm.

Once the tree is taken down, it will be  milled, cured, and used to build homes for needy families in collaboration with non-profit organization Habitat for Humanity. For more than eighty years, the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and its elaborate outfittings remain a beacon for visitors from near and far. But the intense history of this beloved landmark steeped in American culture precedes far beyond the glitz and glamour televised each year. It all began at the peak of the Great Depression on Christmas Eve, 1931.

As recounted by American writer Daniel Okrent in his History of Rockefeller center—a group of construction workers mounted and decorated a 20 feet balsam fir Tree with strings of cranberries, garlands of paper and a few tin cans on the waterlogged, debris-covered site of what is now known as the monumental Rockefeller Center. Despite the nation's devastating economic turmoil, these men were grateful for having jobs in a time when many of their colleagues were unemployed due to the stock market crash of October 1929. What started as an unofficial symbol of reflection and hope sparked an age-old tradition and is the trademark of some of the most memorable moments within American pop culture.

1933: Marking the first official tree lighting organized by a Rockefeller Center publicist, 1933's Rockefeller Tree Lighting Ceremony featured a lush evergreen pine tree decorated with 700 lights. The tree was erected in front of the Art Deco RCA building now known as 30 Rockefeller Center, now nicknamed 30 Rock—kudos to Tina Fey.

1936: Excited New Yorkers clamored around for a special lighting ceremony and a night of leisurely fun as Rockefeller Center presented its first annual ice skating pageant, held on its then newly opened outdoor ice-skating rink. Two tall lush Christmas trees decked out with an array of lights were erected to celebrate the new addition and what would go down in American history as one of Rockefeller Center's biggest tourist attraction.

1942: With the tumultuous World War II in full swing, three trees were erected in honor of the brave American troops at war. One painted in red, the other in blue and another in white. 

1951: As television sets became commonplace in American homes across the nation, so did the televising of the Rockefeller Tree Lighting Ceremony. It was this year that Americans across the nation witnessed the ceremony from the comfort of their homes on The Katie Smith Show. The ceremony was hosted by leading lady, Katie Smith aka The First Lady of Radio. From then, the ceremony has been hosted by a slew of famous broadcasters including, Barbara Walters (1972), Lily Tomlin (1985),  and Liza Minnelli (1990). 

1966: This year's lighting ceremony featured the first tree from beyond U.S. shores—presented as a gift from Canada in honor of its 100th birthday.  

1980: Marking the 50th anniversary of the Rockefeller Tree Lighting ceremony, legendary television personality and entertainer Bob Hope participates in the lighting. 

1999: This year marks another chapter in Rockefeller Tree Lighting ceremony with the tallest tree— 100 feet tall—to grace the Rockefeller Plaza

2004: That time when the  traditional Norway Spruce bedazzled Rockefeller Center Plaza for the first time. Standing 71 feet tall, 2004's tree was crowned with an extravagant 9.5 feet  Swarovski designed star, weighing in at 550 lbs, and boasting 25,000 crystals with a total of one million facets.

2007: The Rockefeller Christmas tree goes green with 30,000 energy-save LED lights powered by the solar panel atop the Rockefeller Center Plaza. Also, this year's "go green" campaign  marks the beginning of a new tradition in Rockefeller history. This year's Norway Spruce was the first Rockefeller tree to be furnished for lumber to build new homes (in its origin state) for needy families in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity non-profit organization. 

2012: Hurricane Sandy didn't stop this year's 80 feet Norway Spruce from arriving from its Mount Olive, NJ home. Head gardener of Tishman Speyer admitted that he found the tree by accident after getting lost on his way back to NY on a tree hunt.

2014: Pop star Fergie unveils another Swarovski designed star for the Rockefeller Christmas tree. Weighing in at 550 1bs and 10 feet in diameter, this one outshines 2004's Swarovski creation by German artist Michael Hammers.