See Incredible Photos of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Over Its 86-year History
Construction workers purchased and decorated a 20-ft. tree in the Rockefeller Center construction site on Christmas Eve 1931, as the Great Depression wore on. According to Thrillist, they added just a few decorations: cranberries, paper garland and tin cans.
The year 1933 marked the first official tree lighting ceremony, organized by a publicist for Rockefeller Center, according to TIME. The years that followed brought slightly bigger — and much brighter — trees.
In 1936, two trees were erected to celebrate the opening of the now-famous Rockefeller Center ice skating rink.
Rockefeller Center played a big role in the TV boom of the 1950s, and that translated to even more opulent trees. The tree made its first television appearance, on The Howdy Doody Show, and decorations went from cranberries and popcorn to red garland, white plastic globes, icicle lights and wiry white angel trumpeters.
According to Rockefeller Center's website, in the 1950s, "workers began using scaffolding to aid in decorating the trees. Before the decade was over, the process called for 20 men and a period of nine days."
Trees — which are generally donated, not purchased, and scouted by the Rockefeller Center gardening team — continued to get bigger and better throughout the 1960s. And in 1963, another first: the tree's wood was recycled, donated to a Boy Scout troop.
As the evergreens grew larger, the means of getting them from their "homes" to New York City grew more creative — like the time a tree was floated down the Hudson River on a barge, or when the world's largest transport plane, an Anatov 124, flew a tree in from Ohio.
According to Thrillist, this isn't like your at-home Christmas tree: Cold outdoor temperatures keep it fresh, so it doesn't require water.
By the 1980s, the tree reached another milestone: most lights used. The year 1986 boasted a then-record 20,000 lights.
The 1996 tree was pretty grand, but what came in 1999 was even greater: the largest Rockefeller Center tree, ever, hailing from Killingworth, Connecticut, and standing 100-ft. tall.
The 2001 tree had special significance: in tribute to the lives lost on Sept. 11 of that year, decorations were in red, white and blue. But by 2004 it was multi-colored again, and featured a star made of Swarovski crystals, a tradition that continues today.
The second-largest tree to ever grace Rockefeller Center, 2016's centerpiece stood at 94-ft. tall and weighed 14 tons. Angie and Graig Eichler of Oneonta, New York, donated the Norway Spruce, which made its way into Manhattan over the George Washington Bridge.
Weighing 12 tons and measuring 75-ft. tall, this year's tree, a Norway Spruce, came from Jason Perrin of State College, Pennsylvania. It was lit the night of Nov. 29, and will be on display until Jan. 7.