The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Through the Years

Photo: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

On Christmas Eve in 1931, workers at the Rockefeller Center construction site decided to pool their money and buy a Christmas tree. It was a humble 20-foot Balsam fir decorated by hand with tinfoil garlands. From that moment on, the tree has been an annual tradition that has since become a world-wide symbol of Christmas spirit. Every year, thousands of spectators crowd the sidewalks for this event. Click through our gallery to see some of the most memorable evergreens and stay tuned for the 86th annual tree lighting ceremony on November 28.

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This was the second year for the iconic Christmas tree. Paul Manship created the famous gilded statue of Prometheus, which is seen in this photograph. Albert Einstein made an appearance at the White House earlier this year in January and Dayton, Ohio, hosted its first-ever All-American Soap Box Derby to the delight of fans.

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Nina Leen/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

People gathered at the base of the tree on a cold evening at the Rockefeller Center to pay tribute to the Christmas tree. Its branches may have seemed sparse, even simple, but the city was just coming out of the Great Depression and America had entered into World War II. The lights on the Christmas tree possibly gave people hope for a better future.

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The chosen tree for Rockefeller Plaza can be no wider than 110 feet due to the limitations of New York City streets. Pictured here in 1946, the tree was carefully carted into the plaza and erected upright by crane. There was no major private development in the 15 years between the Empire State's completion in 1931 and the Columbia Pictures Building in 1946. The only one was Rockefeller Center.

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Dubbed "The White Tree," this Christmas tree was sprayed with hundreds of gallons of silvery-white, flameproof paint with the hope of achieving a snow-covered effect. It was also bedecked with 7,500 pastel-colored lights. As seen here, the walkway leading up to the tree was lined with 576 illuminated plastic snowflakes that created a magical effect.

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Colorful globe lights adorned the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in 1955. The Fifties were the Golden Age for the entertainment industry in Manhattan with recording studios and music publishers throughout the city. On December 8, the lights were turned on for the 65-foot Norway spruce at Rockefeller Plaza. The tree had 2,500 bulbs and 1,400 globes in four colors (red, white, blue and yellow) to delight skaters in the ice rink.

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Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

This was the thirtieth tree to be raised in the Rockefeller Center. Believed to be 50 years old and standing at 67 feet tall, this iconic white spruce created a romantic atmosphere. Lighted Christmas snowballs decorated the Rockefeller Center and smaller trees added to its magical glow.

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NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

NBC Color Mobile Units were on site to capture the beauty of the lighting ceremony on December 9, 1966. For the first time ever, the tree was imported from another country. Canada donated a Christmas tree in honor of Centennial of its Confederation as the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. That same year, the animated television special of "How The Grinch Stole Christmas," directed by Chuck Jones, aired for the first time.

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In 1969, Sculptor Valerie Clarebout debuted another famous holiday staple: the triumphant collection of metal wire herald angels in the Channel Gardens. This was also the year of the first color photos of Earth as viewed from space and the Apollo 11 Mission, which landed three astronauts on the moon.

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David Herman/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Strewn with gold and red lights, the first tree of the Seventies looked magnificent in the "city within a city," with a shining star balanced at the top of the tree to remind everyone of the joy of the holidays. It was then that the Rockefeller Center was declared the second most significant piece of architecture in the United States by the American Institute of Architects (ranked only after Thomas Jefferson's University of Virginia.)

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In all of its gold and red splendor, 1971's 65-foot spruce from East Montpelier, Vermont, had a special place in history as the first tree to be recycled at the end of the holiday season.

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For the third time in history, Rockefeller Center featured a tree originating from Maine. This particular 65-five-foot white spruce tree was donated from a local family.

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New York Post Archives/Getty

In 1985, the tree arrived one day late due to the truck getting stuck in some mud along the journey. Nonetheless, Several thousand lights onthe tree gave it is magical glow in the cold night of winter. Whitney Houston, age 21, released her debut album in February of this year. A year later, it was the top-selling album of its time.

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In 1986, the Christmas tree was donated by Mary and Vinnie Froeling of Nanuet, New York. In a serendipitous twist, the tree had been planted by Mr. Froeling's father around the same time that work first began on Rockefeller Center itself in 1931. At the plaza, the tree sparkled with a record 20,000 lights. This wasn't the only milestone moment for New York: the 1980's also marked Rockefeller Center's foray into the Stock Exchange, offering the public the opportunity to become investors.

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Measured at 65 feet tall, 1988's Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was a stunning sight—decked out in gold and red—in the sub-zero winter temperatures. This tree was lit just a month after the original buildings were deemed National Historic Landmarks.

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Time & Life Pictures/Getty

The tree towered above the skaters below. World flags adorn the bridge where onlookers could admire the Christmas tree and observe the skating rink. During the day, the gold lights were still prominent. Nearby in Manhattan, Frank Sinatra's shows sold out five times in a row at the Radio City Music Hall.

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A 65-foot Norway Spruce tree turned the night into day with its 25,000 bulbs. The lights cast a golden glow over the Rockefeller Center as skaters admire the beauty of the holiday decorations.

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More than 400 tuba players gathered at the base of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree for this year's tree lighting ceremony at the plaza. Festive red lights make the perfect holiday statement. This particular winter was also memorable for its record-setting blizzard.

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On the night of December 2, U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton lit the 73-foot Norway Spruce for the 66th annual tree lighting ceremony of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. That year, the tree was decorated in red lights and red bows for a festive display. Garth Brooks and Jewel performed at the ceremony.

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New York Daily News Archive/Getty

This year, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree stands at 100 feet tall—the tallest tree on record! This Norway Spruce sparkled with colorful lights and a violet glow on the skating rink added to the ambiance of the scene. The world was concerned about Y2K, but still had hopes for the new millennium.

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In 2001, the Christmas tree was lit with 30,000 red, white and blue bulbs to commemorate those who had been lost in the World Trade Center attacks and the brave people who came together to help survivors. First Lady Laura Bush told the crowd, "America loves New York."

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Scott Gries/Getty

The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is typically chosen from an aerial view. In 2002 for the first time ever, it was chosen from a photograph. The 75-year-old spruce weighed in at seven tons, measuring 76 feet tall and 43 feet wide—donated by Carmine and Mary Rizzo from their property in Bloomsbury, New Jersey.

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An 85-foot Norway tree from Pennsylvania stood at the Rockefeller Center in 2014. The tree weighed 13 tons and was covered in 45,000 LED lights. Atop the tree was the addition of the now iconic sparkling Swarovski star.

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This year's Christmas tree shined in Rockefeller Center thanks to more than 45,000 bulbs. Red, white, and blue ornaments celebrated the American spirit and glittered in the night as they reflected the lights.

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Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

On a chilly winter evening, the 50,000 lights on the Christmas tree twinkled above skaters in the Rockefeller Center skating rink. That year, the tree weighed 14 tons and stoof at almost 94 feet tall.

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Last year, a Norway Spruce shimmered under 50,000 multicolored lights strung over 8 kilometers of wire. (That's five miles of lights!) Hundreds of solar panels atop the Rockefeller Center buildings helped to power the lights throughout the season. At the tree lighting ceremony aired live on NBC, the celebrity lineup included "Moana" breakout star Auli'i Cravalho, Gwen Stefani, Seal, Leslie Odom Jr., and Harry Connick Jr. among others.

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