Neon signs are luminous tube signs containing neon or other inert gases at low pressure. These gases undergo a high electric pressure (usually a few thousand volts), finally making them glow brightly. The term neon has been derived from the Greek word ‘neos’, which means ‘the new gas’. The invention of the neon gas and then the neon lamps is exclaimed as one of the most sensational discoveries in the field of lighting and electricity that was welcomed by the people with open arms. The neon signs are created by bending glass tubes into different shapes. The worker involved in this craft is called a glass, neon or tube bender. Ever since its advent, the craft became extremely popular. This article provides you with some interesting and amazing information on the history, origin and background of neon signs.
Interesting & Amazing Information On Origin & Background Of Neon Signs
A faint glow in a mercury barometer tube observed by a French astronomer, Jean Picard, way back in 1675 explains the entire theory of neon signs. He shook the tube when he observed a glow, a barometric light, but was unable to find out the source of that sudden glow. It was only with the invention of electricity and few experiments that the concept of static electricity was understood, thus explaining the strange glow in a barometer back in the 17th century. Right from the advent of electricity, scientific inventions lead to the introduction of many new forms of lighting, the ‘Geissler Tube’ being one of them. The ‘Geissler Tube’ was invented by Heinrich Geissler, a German glassblower and physicist in 1855. The tube was a cylindrical glass containing combinations of air, liquids, minerals and argon. It had two electrodes through which electric current ran to make the tube glow. This invention was later used as a subject to carry out many experiments.
It was this continuous scientific research on different gases and electricity that led to the discovery of neon. The neon gas was discovered by a Nobel Prize winner Scottish chemist, Sir William Ramsay, and English chemist and the founding director of IISc, Morris W. Travers, in 1898. Ramsay and Travers passed air through the fractional distillation process and collected the gases exuded, such as xenon, krypton and neon. Neon gas, that was discovered, was a colorless gas which if electrically charged under precise conditions in the tube, gave out a reddish-orange glow. Neon gas can be found in abundance in the outer space, but is rare in the earth’s atmosphere. The invention of such a light noble gas soon became popular and universally accepted, as it was a totally new and inconceivable lighting form.
It was in 1910 that a new lamp using neon gas was invented by a French inventor and chemist, Georges Claude. Claude was quite fascinated with this development and opened a business under the name ‘Claude Neon’, foreseeing the gains which this invention could fetch him. George Claude introduced neon signs to the United States in 1923. He sold two neon signs to a Packard car dealership in Los Angeles, bought by Earle C. Anthony. With its introduction to the U.S., neon signs gained immense popularity, with the people being fascinated and amused with the red illumination. Soon it became symbolic of America’s inventiveness and creativity and was visible in almost all outdoor advertising. By 1920s and 1930s, extravagant neon displays and elaborate signs were dominating the American downtowns. The gas was termed as ‘Liquid Fire’, by the beguiled people of America.
It was Las Vegas which introduced the lavish, colorful and innovative neon signs in all forms. Animated neon signs, border neon and decorative architectural designs covered the city streets. Artkraft Strauss dominated the sign making market in the 1950s and became quite famous with their New York ‘smoking camel’ sign, the ‘Bond Clothing Waterfall’ display and other unique and artistic designs. The loud sung popularity of the neon signs, however, saw a steep decline in the early 1960s, when the municipal sign codes and public tastes changed. This marked the end of the boom period enjoyed by neon lights. There were many cheaper alternatives for neon electric signs, spreading over the market. It was mainly the ‘exposed’ version of neon that lost its popularity. Fluorescent sign cabinets with translucent plastic faces became a cheap alternative to neon signs.
Even after the sharp decline in the use of neon signs, they were still being manufactured in small shapes and size basically for indoor uses. In the 1970s, the discovery of neon colored glow sticks became a rage. With its constructive uses, such as driving, camping and emergency situations, these neon sticks showed some hopes for the manufacturing units. These glow sticks did not contain any neon as such since they were not electrically charged. This was, however, just a spark of hope which faded out commercially in the 1980s. In 1981, the Museum of Neon Art ‘MONA’ was opened in Los Angeles, which became the first museum in the world to specialize in the field of neon art. Efforts are being made to restore some of the historic architecture of the past. Projects, like the 1999 Route 66 Corridor Restoration Act, have helped in preserving some of the iconic Retro-Neon signs and monuments of the past.