According to National Public Radio,  Reform Jewish Rabbis in Cincinnati in the second half of the 19th century were the first to realize the potential of this new winter holiday for Jews. Finding that the children of their congregations didn’t have much interaction with the synagogue, these Rabbis introduced Hanukkah as primarily a child’s festival.  The same NPR story also suggests that enthusiasm for the new Jewish festival increased again with the influx of Eastern European Jews to America after 1880. These Jews were often fleeing religious persecution and happily took this new opportunity to celebrate their religion without backlash.