For generations, the General Electric name meant you were getting a quality set designed to last.
You can tell when your set was made by looking for a few clues. The chronology shown below should help.
1953- Ceramic finish bulbs introduced. These had a ceramic coating that was fused to the glass, so it couldn't chip.
1960- Lighted ice bulbs introduced.
1963- All green light strings with injection molded sockets introduced and sold under G.E. brand.
1966- Merry Midget line introduced. Early sets made in Japan, then later in Taiwan. Satin Bright metallic bulbs introduced.
1968- Satin Glo, an earlier metallic finish bulb, discontinued.
1972 - Catalog numbers changed to make it easier to identify products. For example, Satin Bright bulbs went from #D36 to C7-SB.
1978 ENERGESAVER logo introduced to indicate reduced energy use items. Ceramic finish bulbs changed to a painted coating. Introduced midget sets with a straight line layout and standard wedge base bulbs.
1987- Cartons redesigned, ENERGESAVER logo discontinued. Products made almost entirely overseas.
2001- G.E. discontinued manufacturing their holiday lighting line and sold it to Santa's best craft,
who now make and sell the sets with the familiar trademarks used under license to G.E.
2012- G.E. Brand lights are now made by Nicholas Holiday, inc. The website is geholidaylighting.com.
Update - of their original product line, only Glow Bright ceramic bulbs, Cool Bright transparent bulbs, and Merry Midget basic miniature sets are still sold today. New products include decorative miniature sets with pine cones, snowflakes, candles, holly sprigs, and stars. They recently introduced a line of LED Christmas lights with the "Energy Smart" designation.

How to determine date by Bulb packaging.

Prior to 1975, G.E. replacement bulbs were packaged in a carton style which allowed the tips of the bulbs to show. After 1975 the cartons were changed to enclose the bulb tips, because all bulbs now used a paint finish which scratched easily.

Here are some G.E. advertising items.

In 1963 G.E. introduced their own new, all green light sets.
To showcase their features this 5 panel graphic appeared on Christmas light sets.
Here's a classic G.E. ad from the December 1969 Readers Digest magazine.
In it, Santa's little helper implores Mom to buy G.E. Satin Brights because
"They shine even when they're off ". The ad ran from 1966 to 1969.
 
 Here is a merchandising display for General Electric Christmas light bulbs. It shows the various decorative bulbs offered by G.E. at the time and even lights up!
These photos are from an eBay auction which sold in November 2007. I usually don't use eBay photos, but am making an exception here because this is a rare item.
This advertisement from the December 5, 1960 issue of LIFE magazine is a gold mine of information on G.E. lamps sold at the time.
The ad fills 2 full pages and they certainly got their moneys worth since it was in a sports issue.
This is the 1978 G.E. retailer catalog, kindly provided by collector Jeff Carter.
It firmly establishes1978 as the beginning of the ENERGE SAVER era, when G.E.started trimming their product line and sending manufacturing overseas.
The cataolog is in Adobe PDF format so you will need Adobe reader to view it.
1978 G.E. Catalog

More vintage advertisements can be found in the recently launched Google archives of LIFE magazine.
G.E. advertised there in the 1960s using sidebar ads. See Dec. 10 1965 pg 70, and Dec 09 1966 pg 144 for Lighted ice ads.
Check out Dec 8 1967 pg 124,  Dec 6 1968 pg 10 and Dec 12 1969 pg 2. Go to Dec 5 1960 pages 76 and 77 for a 2 page ad!

Click on the light switch to the left to enter the gallery
where you'll see many of these sets and bulbs lit up!
(Broadband recommended)

Click on the mini image to see the full size version, then use your browsers back button to return.

Got broadband? click here! >  The pre 1963 era. (You'll see the same photos as below all on one page.)

Here are the oldest bulbs in my collection, a 5 pack of C-9 ceramic bulbs.
Looking at the back, the lack of a ZIP code dates the pack to pre 1963, while the patent cited dates it to after 1956. The original colors were white, red, yellow, green, and blue.
 Here are 4 hard to find flame style bulbs in C-9 size. As you can see, the bulb on the right has a brass base. G.E. bulbs with brass bases date to pre 1957.
Here are 3 G.E. Snowball bulbs from the 1950s. "They're white - till they light!"
These are G14 globe bulbs with a clear color coating, then over that is white Styrofoam.
The colors from L-R are red, violet, white, yellow, and blue.

Got broadband? click here! >  Bulbs sold from 1963 to 1978.  (You'll see the same photos as below all on one page.)

G.E. Glow Bright C7-CC, 1953 to 1978. These bulbs had a glazed ceramic like finish that would never chip or fade, but they also got very hot! Note the round G.E. logo at the base of the bulbs.

Lighted G.E. Twinkle Bright. redyellowgreenblue
G.E. Satin Glo #D23. These early bulbs had a nice metallic shine to them, but when lit up, they looked like regular Christmas light bulbs. How do you tell them apart? Satin Glo was marked with the G.E. logo and D23 on the bulbs, and Satin Bright was not.
G.E. Satin Bright C7-SB, formerly #D36. These Bulbs had a Metallic appearance and they really did "Shine even when they're off" as their advertisement said. When lit, the bulbs appeared slightly transparent. Unfortunately it's difficult to capture this effect on film.
Update: Satin finish bulbs are now available as LED retrofit bulbs.
G.E. Satin Bright vs. Kmart. This picture shows a comparison of the G.E. lamps - top with K-Mart's offering for the 2002 -2004 Christmas season - bottom. The colors are strikingly similar (note that K-Mart has added a pink color). The base materials are different while the G.E. bulbs are a true cone shape and the KMart ones are torpedo shaped.
A package of C-6 Bulbs made in Mexico, 1970s.
C-6 bulbs were discontinued in 1977.
They're all orange so these bulbs were probably intended for candelabras.
G.E. C6 bulbs
General Electric Lighted Ice bulbs #D30 introduced in 1960. These had plastic "ice" crystals on G14 candelabra base globe bulbs. The colors are (L-R) Ruby, Garnet, Topaz, Emerald, and Turquoise. When lit, they looked like snowballs. Check the price sticker - 19 cents!
Another variation is these stardust bulbs which date to the 1960s. They're torpedo shape bulbs with a glitter finish. It's no coincidence that these bulbs are the same shape as torpedo chandelier bulbs. That's so they could be manufactured using existing equipment.
G.E. Lighted bells, #C7-LB, 1972 -1977.  Those folks at G.E. sure liked glitter!
These ornaments had a C-7 transparent finish bulb cemented inside a glitter coated plastic bell, which makes replacing the bulbs a challenge. Click here for a technique to replace the bulbs.
G.E. Lighted bells #C7-LB, 1972 -1977, in the original packaging. These ornaments were also sold with a light string included.
G.E. Merry Bright bulbs in C-9 intermediate base size, Catalog C9-MB formerly D15. These are steady burning bulbs with a transparent finish which are often confused with twinkle bulbs. Once the bulbs escape from their packaging, the only way to tell them apart is to examine the elements inside. The Merry Bright name was only used on C-9 size bulbs, while the Cool Bright name was used on C-7 size bulbs.
G.E. Merry Twinkle bulbs in C-9 intermediate base size, Catalog # D27. The bulbs were made in the USA and had a different design which resulted in a faster flash rate than today's bulbs.
The Merry Twinkle name was used until 1977 when it then became Twinkle Bright.

Got broadband? click here! >  Bulbs sold from 1978 to 1987. (You'll see the same photos as below all on one page.)

A later version of Lighted Ice made after 1975.
These bulbs were reduced from 7 to 6 watts to save energy, and were made in South Korea.
A comparison of G.E. Lighted ice bulb made in U.S.A. vs. newer bulb made in South Korea.
A package of C-7 "ENERGESAVER" Glow Bright bulbs introduced in 1975 in response to the 1973 energy crisis.
These bulbs had an exterior paint coating that was more efficient - it allowed the same brightness using only 5 watts for C-7 and 7 watts for C-9.
Glowbright Bulbs

Got broadband? click here! >  Bulbs sold from 1987 to 2001. (You'll see the same photos as below all on one page.)

Around 1987 the packaging was changed again. The G.E. logo is larger and the product name is placed at an incline. The "ENERGESAVER" logo has been replaced by the generic "Energy saver" The Bulbs no longer have an aluminum base and are now made with a nickel base. These are C7 Cool Bright bulbs dating to 1993 and made in China.
These are C7 Twinkle Bright bulbs, although that name is now used for C7 and C-9 sizes.
This carton dates to 1993 and is made in Korea.
You can now buy LED twinkle retrofit bulbs!
These are C7 Glow Bright bulbs dating to 1998 and made in China.
They briefly went back to brass bases with Glow Bright bulbs made in China in 1995.
Bulbs shown here have Nickel bases.
G.E. Champagne bulbs in C-7 size, 5 watt, made in China. The colors are blue, green, red, orange, and violet. Notice the rippled flame shape of these bulbs reminiscent of vintage lights. These were found in a dollar store in 2004 and were made prior to 2001.

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Merry Midget Light sets.

G.E. Colonial Lights Miniature 12 Light set, made in Japan, Model COL-2-12, 1960s to 1970s.
It is in excellent condition and includes the original box insert.
This set had miniature oil lamps and included clips to attach the lights to the tree.
G.E. Lantern Lights Miniature 12 Light set, made in Japan, Model LTL-2-12, 1960s to 1970s. This set had miniature coach lanterns lit with matching color bulbs. The box insert is missing in this set.
A G.E. Candle bright Miniature 12 Light set, Model CL2-12, 1960s to 1970s.
The set was made in Japan and used Bi-pin base bulbs. The sockets were hidden in the candles while the bulbs were the flames. The insert in the box is not original it was made up to hold the candles in place.
GE Candlebright 12 light set
Here's a close-up of the back of the Candle Bright box, showing the set's features. GE Candlebright
Here's a G.E. Merry Midget 35 light mini set, model L2-35, 1960s to 1970s.
This set was laid out in a loop and had plastic beads behind the sockets, similar to the C-6 sets it replaced. Note: the paperboard insert for this box is missing.
2 merrymidget sets
General Electric mini bulbs used in this set had a bi-pin base that was unique to G.E.
The bulbs were also cemented to the bases to prevent people from twisting the bulbs,
a big no-no. The center bulb is a red-tipped flasher.
Here's a G.E. Tinsel-Lite 20 light set, model UTL2-20, made in Korea. The ENERGESAVER logo on the box dates the set to 1978 -1987. This set uses mini bulbs surrounded by plastic and tinsel reflectors. The lights are beautiful when lit, but the tinsel trim is very fragile.
getinsel_lite_sml
Here is a close-up of four of the tinsel lights. getinsel_lite2_sml
A more modern G.E. Merry Midget 35 light set, #UPRL2-35, 1980s.
It uses the standard wedge base bulbs and straight line layout.
By this time the sets are now packed in a Styrofoam tray.
 

Next page  - Repairing Miniature Light sets.
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