The Fascinating Story of Neon Signage: From Invention to Modern-Day Uses

What do your thoughts when you consider a neon sign as? Are you picturing a glowing flamingo pointing to a tiki shop? Perhaps you can recall the neon sign on the windows of your favorite diner. If you feel nostalgic about neon images and start to think of them, you are not the only one. Neon signs are nostalgic and have a unique glow that shines like no other light source.

This post explores the colorful history of neon signage. From its popularity in America to the reason they are now disappearing,

What is a neon sign?

A neon sign is an arc-cold fluorescent lamp. A neon sign is typically made up of glass tubes containing neon and a little bit of argon. Even though neon is used to identify signs of different colors, it does not produce every color. A yellow “neon” sign for example is made with neon gas, not helium. Red neon signs are made with neon gas, however. Neon signs can be used as accent lighting or to draw attention to a product or service.

Who Invented Neon Signs

It wouldn’t be fair for one person to have created neon signs. Instead, neon signs were gradually created by several inventors and chemical engineers over time. The creation of neon signs took years of experimentation, trial, and error, and many years before the night sky was lit up. Here are some notable contributors who helped to create neon signs.

1. William Ramsay & Morris W. Travers

In the 1800s Scottish chemicals William Ramsay and Morris W. Travers searched the air looking for rare, hidden gases. Ramsay, Travers, and others discovered neon by isolating liquefied argon. When each of these gases is contained in a glass tube, and charged with high-voltage voltage, they emit a unique brilliant color. This discovery was the foundation for neon lamps.

2. Georges Claude

Georges Claude was also an inventor who used methods to liquify water and produced large quantities for industrial applications. L’Air Liquide, a company he established in 1902 was quickly a multinational corporation.

In an effort to find new discoveries, Claude conducted research and sold liquid oxygen. Ramsay appeared to have found everything. He decided to concentrate his attention on other matters, such as solving the problem caused by excessively bright lighting. To make alternative light sources, he used leftover neon from his liquefaction.

Claude applied the concept of Daniel McFarlan Moore to create bright white lights by sending an electrical current through a sealed gas-filled tube. Claude made Moore’s invention more efficient by replacing Moore’s gas-filled tubes with neon and using larger electrodes that stayed cool longer. Claude’s neon lamps lasted for hundreds and burn bright and steady.

Claude received a patent for neon lighting in 1910. Claude admits that red neon wasn’t the best choice for general lighting but is great to use as a focal point in a decorative light.

How does neon signage work?

A neon sign is created when an electric current passes through the material and makes it glow. They are not good at conducting electricity on their own. For electricity to pass through, a gas, such as neon, must be contained within a tube. A gas discharge tube is a sealed glass tube with electrodes. The gas pressure rises when a voltage is applied to the electrodes. This allows an electric current to flow through the tube. The electric current turns the gas on. Other gases emit different colors than neon, including yellow and blue.

An experienced craftsman can teach you difficult techniques to create a neon sign. The process involves using heat to bend the glass tubes according to a template, attaching electrodes, pumping in gasses, and removing any impurities. It is an intricate process that requires skill and practice.

When did neon signage become popular?

Georges Claude, a Parisian barbershop owner, was the catalyst for neon signs becoming popular in 1912. Soon other businesses like the Paris Opera wanted the same striking exteriors. To expand his business, Claude started Claude Neon and sold neon sign franchises. Dozens more franchises have been opened in the world.

Earle C. Anthony of Packard Motor Car Company’s Los Angeles dealership was the man who introduced the first American neon signs. Anthony had previously visited Paris and spotted Claude’s signs. Two signs were made specifically for Anthony’s downtown showroom. The elegant orange neon signs, reading “Packard”, were half the price of a car. Traffic jams were reportedly caused by the sign’s captivating appeal. In the 1920s, it was impossible to drive by the Packard showroom and not stop to see the hypnotic neon lights.

They became an emblem of progress and modernity and quickly became popular in the United States. These neon signs were created to attract travelers who use interstate highway systems. If you traveled in the 1930s, you would see neon signs advertising motels, gas stations, and diners all over the country. Las Vegas, New York, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, and New York became famous for their neon signs that encouraged customers to gamble, dine, and visit the movies.

Around World War II, neon began to lose its popularity. Many business owners decided not to spend the money to repair damaged signs and instead replaced them with neon signs using plastics and fluorescent tubes. Plastic signs were cheaper and easier to maintain than neon signs. People started to associate neon signs and run-down motels, sleazy bars, or other deplorable establishments. A small revival of neon signs took place in the 1970s. It continues to this day. These neon signs are typically small and can be used to advertise beer or inform customers that a store has opened.

Why are neon signs no longer used?

It is still possible to find neon indoor signs in homes and bars across the country. Businesses have switched to different forms of illuminated signs for a variety of reasons.

  • Neon signs can be expensive.
  • Expert artisans are required for the creation of custom neon signs.
  • Neon signs are less durable than other types and harder to replace.
  • Due to the addition of argon, neon signs may not work well in cold temperatures.
  • Neon signs are typically heavier than other types of sign material.
  • Neon signs can be less flexible than modern signs.

While neon signs aren’t as common as they used to be, people still love the glow of neon. The museum that preserves neon signs is home to many museums. In many cities, neon signs still advertise businesses such as nail salons or restaurants.

Alternatives to Neon Signage

Neon signs shine with a unique glow, unlike any other source of light. These signs are limited, however, compared with modern signs. Here are some alternatives for neon signage. These signs captivate people and do much more than simply light up the sky.

1. LED Signs

The mesmerizing glow of LEDs is very similar to that of neon, but with higher efficiency and longer durability. LEDs are extremely small and combine red, green, and yellow to produce white light. LED neon signs are much lighter than neon signs. They can be used to promote new products and sales in a restaurant, store, or other business. Large LED neon signs are often used by business owners to advertise their products and services outdoors. Programmable LED signage is able to change the advertisement at any time. Here are some other reasons why LED signage is a popular choice for businesses:

  • Energy saving: LEDs emit light in a specific way, which reduces the need for light-trapping mirrors. They use 75 percent less electricity than incandescent light and are one of the most efficient light sources. Widespread use of these lights could result in more than $30 trillion in savings for the U.S. by 2027.
  • Durable Leds last 25x longer than incandescent light bulbs. LEDs save you time and money by not having to change the bulbs as often as with other types. Neon signs, however, require skills and time to change or repair parts.
  • Leaves little heat behind: LEDs emit very little heat, unlike other lighting forms which can release up to 90% of their energy as heat.
  • No mercury in LEDs. However, certain neon signs contain small amounts, which can pose a risk to the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), urges people to call local agencies to inquire about recycling a fluorescent lamp instead of throwing it in the garbage.
  • Reliable visibility Because LEDs can be easily maintained and have long life expectancies, businesses don’t need to worry about them failing. Their signs will still be visible. Like neon signs, LEDs can withstand cold weather.
  • Attractive, bright, and appealing: Some signs are designed with bold, vivid colors or movement to grab attention. LED neon signs, which are similar to neon signs and easy to miss, can be enjoyable to view.

Advertising can also be created by business owners using backlit graphics. Backlit graphics make use of LED light, frames, and interchangeable fabric overlays to create engaging designs and messages. They have also known as lightboxes. You can use them indoors, outdoors, or anywhere else there is power. Businesses looking to attract customers and stand out among the crowd can use backlit graphics as a flexible, lightweight option.

2. Digital Signs

Digital signage offers business owners power, unlike any other light source. The digital sign lets you update information at any time. It can be used to project animated videos, create a calendar with events, or display anything else that you might like. Digital signage holds customers’ attention and is familiar to them, just like a TV. Digital signage provides business owners with complete control over the content they share. Here are some more benefits of digital signage:

  • Be flexible: There is nothing more flexible than writing content on a computer, and then sending it to signs. A new sign doesn’t have to be purchased every time you need to advertise a product or service. Digital signage is a great tool for creating animations and videos as well as sharing news, photos, and other features.
  • Get noticedAccording to a Nielsen report from 2015, 75 percent of people saw a digital billboard within the previous month, and 55 percent observed the message almost all the time. Digital signage stands out and makes a lasting impression.
  • Informing and exciting: A similar survey revealed that 61% of respondents think digital billboards can be a useful way to find out about sales or events. This shows that digital signage can be an effective tool to promote a company.
  • Increase brand recall. Eighty-two percent of survey respondents remembered advertising on digital billboards. You can make your brand more memorable by going digital.
  • Increase customer satisfaction: Digital signage offers a variety of ways to make customers satisfied. They make things easier. Bright menu boards allow customers to quickly and easily navigate through the menu options. Illuminated Menus attract more customers. Digital signs can be programmed with the day, month, or season to adjust, which makes the workday much more manageable for staff.
  • Make customers happy: Digital signs are available in so many different places, from waiting rooms at hospitals to hotel lobbies. As patients wait for their turn, digital signage can be used to give them health tips. You can also use it to guide people in large buildings. Digital signs don’t need to be missed and can fit in any setting.
  • Make your promotion stand out. Are they having a big deal? Has a brand new product been released? An attractive digital sign will generate excitement and encourage customers to buy.

SpeedPro has Neon Sign Alternatives

You can give your business the attention that it deserves by using high-quality displays that really stand out. SpeedPro will transform your vision with stunning backlit graphics or adaptable digital signage to advertise daily specials. Our team will work closely with you to develop a unique sign solution that makes your company stand out from other competitors. Stop by any of our studios today.