When Bert Medland created an elaborate, lighted Christmas tree outside his Delaware County home in the 1950s, he had no idea that his work would endure for more than 50 years, putting a twinkle in the eyes of generations of children and adults.
Mr. Medland, 86, of Newtown Square, whose tree evolved into the 60-foot "Magic Christmas Tree of a Million Lights" seen by crowds over the decades at John Wanamaker and the stores that followed it at 13th and Market Streets, died of lung disease Friday, July 15, at Brandywine Hall in West Chester.
The grand display, featuring tens of thousands of lights, continues to delight holiday audiences at Macy's.
Mr. Medland's daughter, Paula Squitiere, said her father, a self-taught electrical engineer, put his first Christmas tree with synchronized lighting on the roof of the screened porch of his home in Drexel Hill in the mid-1950s. The tree was covered with about 500 lights he strung on wires.
"People would come from all over the place and just park in front of the house and watch the show," Squitiere said. "The word got out by word of mouth."
In a 1959 newspaper interview, Mr. Medland said he built the control system for his tree with parts he had from his ham-radio hobby.
"My home system could be much smaller if I had purchased special parts for it," Mr. Medland was quoted as saying, "but, like Topsy, it just grew."
Squitiere said the popularity of the tree prompted Mr. Medland to shop the idea around to major Center City retailers.
"He told me that he went to all the other department stores that were down there at the time. . . . They all turned him down," Squitiere said.
She said Fred Yost, a lighting specialist who had pioneered the Enchanted Fountains in front of the Wanamaker Organ at Christmastime, "latched onto the idea" and said, "This is going to be great."
Ray Biswanger, executive director of the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ - a nonprofit group that promotes the heritage and preservation of the organ at Macy's - said he took Mr. Medland to see the Christmas Light Show in December 2009.
"We took him up to the organ console. He watched the show from there," Biswanger said. "We took him down by the eagle, and he saw all the children with their faces lit up. He was very much moved by it."
Biswanger and others estimated that more than a million people have seen the magic tree over the years.
Larry Kerecman, who does design and consulting work on light displays and fountains for a company in Denver, said he converted the relays that Mr. Medland designed to a computer-based system from 2000 to 2002 and updated it again in 2007. He hailed Mr. Medland's work.
"Not only does his idea endure as Macy's presents it today, but there are many places around the country that have copied some of this as well," said Kerecman, who is known as "Light Show Larry."
Kerecman, who grew up in Trenton, said he built a small version of the Magic Christmas Tree in his front yard as a youth. He said he was inspired by Mr. Medland's work.
"In some sense, I think he really created the whole idea of animated Christmas shows," Kerecman said.
Hubert R. Medland was born in Chicago in 1925. He graduated from Pullman High School there.
After serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II, he and his wife, Irene Korzenko, moved to Drexel Hill. He worked in electrical engineering. His wife of 36 years died in 1982.
In 1970, Mr. Medland founded HRM Controls in West Chester, which employed his three children, Squitiere said. The company made automation controls for industrial machinery. He retired after 30 years and closed the company.
His hobbies included singing in a barbershop quartet and writing letters to the editor.
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Medland is survived by sons James and Thomas, and three grandchildren.
A private gathering of family and friends will be Friday in Newtown Square.
Donations in his memory may be made to Martha Lloyd Community Services, a program for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, at 66 Lloyd Lane, Troy, Pa. 16947.