The bright colourful lights of neon signs have been around for 100 years already now and despite the advent of LED signs,neon seems set to continue in popularity for many more years. So how did scientists discover that combining a glass tube,an electrical current and certain gases made an attractive and compelling formula to advertise commercial businesses?
It was in 1856 that Heinrich Geissler first discovered that he could create a light source by passing electric current through a gas sealed into a glass tube. Subsequent experiments showed that most common gases would conduct electricity and quite a few would produce light. Unfortunately none of the gases produced a lasting effect as they would react with the electrodes reducing their efficiency.
In 1898 Sir William Ramsay and Morris William Travers developed the fractional distillation of liquid air. In so doing they discovered the rare gas elements of neon,argon,xenon and krypton. They found that these gases produced good light sources in various colours without reacting with the electrodes,so the illumination was long-lived and constant. Neon produced an orange-red,argon an intense blue-violet. This process was too expensive to develop in any commercial way at this time however.
In 1907 Georges Claude found a more economical method of fractional distillation. He was intending to produce pure oxygen for use in hospitals. The rare gases were by-products with no commercial application at the time and he wanted to find a use for them to avoid wastage. Using the previous research done by Ramsay and Travers he was able to develop the illuminated sealed tubes into intricate shapes and forms,utilising the various gases,and so the first neon signs were born. His first commercial signs were installed in 1912 and demand for these signs picked up quickly so that his company Claude Neon was able to sell franchises.
Neon signs were brought to the United States in 1923 by a Los Angeles car dealer,Earle C. Anthony. They quickly became popular,spreading like wildfire as businesses discovered the power of neon to attract customers to their stores. Eventually neon signs were essential to catch the eye in any business district and Las Vegas was legendary for its elaborate neon displays.
While the heyday of neon signs was perhaps the 1940s and 50s,neon continued to thrive despite the introduction of illuminated plastic signs in the 1960s. Today with LED signs also grabbing a share of the signage market,neon is still first choice for many people for its artistic qualities,atmospheric and character full signs.More information on business signs