Lighting Up Christmas


The story starts with Henry Stolze, the unlikely socialist mayor. Far from a wild-eyed radical, Stolze was a businessmen who had founded the National Tinsel Company on Manitowoc’s south side. For many years it was the only manufacturer in the country of the sparkly metallic strips draped over the boughs of Xmas trees--tinsel. Stolze also patented a metal clip that presumably allowed candles to be safely attached to Xmas trees so they could be lit without igniting the boughs.

The following is taken from the Manitowoc County Historical Society Occupational Monograph Number 35 by Lloyd Velicer, Department of History at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Henry C. Stolze, Jr. was born in Germany on December 8, 1859. He came to Manitowoc as a boy of nine years with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Stolze, Sr. They settled on a farm on the north side of Manitowoc, apparently to the south of the railroad tracks going toward Two Rivers. In addition to the truck farm business he also packaged and sold seeds.

In the obituary of Henry Stolze, Sr., who died on April 27, 1917, it stated that “Mr. Stolze, Sr., was a student and an avid reader who held some strong opinions on political matters.” The article stated that he was involved in city politics as were his two sons, Henry C. and Andrew. Andrew served as a member of the city council for several terms, and Henry C. was Mayor of Manitowoc.

Henry C. Stolze, Jr. was a man with somewhat of a mechanical bent. The U.S. Patent Office, in 1899, gave him a patent on a Christmas tree light holder.

His patent letter describes:

To all whom it may concern.-

Be it known that I, HENRY STOLZE, Jr., a citizen of the United States, residing at Manitowoc, in the county of Manitowoc and State of Wisconsin, have invented a new and useful Candle-Holder for Christmas Trees, of which the following is a specification.

This invention relates to candle-holders for use upon Christmas trees, and has for its object to provide a holder which can be readily attached to a limb or small branch of the tree and having means whereby the holder is positively supported in an upright position and is prevented from being tipped or displaced by shaking or any disturbance of the tree.

A further object is to provide an extensible device whereby one part may be attached to the strong portion of the branch and the candle held beyond the point of attachment at or near the tip end of the branch, producing the desired effect and yet insuring security of attachment.

The present device provides an exceedingly-useful candle-holder, as it is light and durable. It can be readily and effectively attached to a tree and may be adjusted in length to locate the candle at any desired point. It will be further noted that the device may be folded out" fiat, as shown in Fig. 2, to facilitate the packing away of a plurality of holders and preserving them for renewed use from time to time as required.

Mr. Stolze was the founder of the Stolze Manufacturing Company, a pioneer in the manufacture of Christmas tree ornaments and tinsel. For some years this was the only manufacturing company of its kind in the United States.

The National Tinsel Company plant was located on South 16th Street in Manitowoc and was the second home of the business.

It was in 1905 that Mr. Stolze became active in city politics and became a candidate for the office of the mayor of Manitowoc on the socialist ticket. He campaigned on the platform that the water and electric light utilities should be under municipal

ownership. Stolze’s opponent, Dr. W.G. Kemper, was opposed to municipal ownership. The result was a 195 vote Stolze majority. But Mayor Stolze’s hopes for the municipal ownership of the water and electric utility were not to be realized during his first term. There was an effort made by the city council to purchase the privately owned water utility in 1905, but no agreement on a purchase price could be reached. Stolze’s first mayoral term continued until 1907. He was again elected Mayor from 1911 to 1917. In 1911, Mayor Henry Stolze Jr. led the City's purchase of the waterworks. It would be a few years later, in 1914, that electric utilities were purchased.

Shortly after Mr. Stolze retired from the office of the mayor, he sold the Stolze Manufacturing Plant,. The company was purchased in 1918 by W.C. Protz who reorganized it as the Natioal Tinsel and Toy Manufacturing Company. Stolze then  relocated to Milwaukee.

The last six years of Stolze’s life were spent  in Los Angeles where he resided with his sons.

Henry C. Stolze, Jr. died on February 12, 1925. His obituary stated, “He was a man of a brilliant mind and a student. He was a formidable opponent in any cause to which he committed himself. When he did so he gave it all of his energy. He was known for his fighting qualities. He was of extremely nervous temperament.”

“These qualities basic to his nature made him the kind of person who could overcome opposition  even when the obstacles seemed insurmountable. When he felt that cause was right he would be satisfied only when there was victory.”