Neon Lights: An Illuminating History

The notion of neon lights first came to be in 1675 when Jean Picard, a French astronomer observed that mercury in a barometer emitted a faint glow. When the barometer was shaken, the amount of light emitted by the glow increased. Picard and other scientists continued to investigate this concept, even though the idea of barometric light was not yet understood by the scientific community. After the basic principals of electricity were identified, scientists began developing the concepts that defined various forms of lighting including that which would become known as neon lights.

In 1902 a French inventor by the name of Georges led neon signs Claude was the first to apply an electrical charge to a sealed tube of neon gas in order to use the emissions to create a lamp but it wasn’t until 1910 that Claude was ready to display his invention to the public. In 1910 he put his neon lamp – the world’s first – on display in Paris. He then created a company which he named Claude Neon to manufacture and sell his invention. His invention was first introduced to the United States when Claude manufactured two neon lights that were to be used as signage for a Packard dealership in Los Angeles, California. Each sign said “Packard” and were purchased by the dealerships owner, Earl Anthony for $12,000 each in 1923. The concept of neon lights used as signs quickly spread from the Packard signs to becoming a popular fixture for outdoor advertising of all sorts. Because the neon lights were visible in the daytime as well as the night, they were highly effective in attracting the attention of potential customers.

Creating neon lights requires a great deal of work with various lengths of glass tubing, high amounts of heat, gasses, and electrical voltage. Neon produces a red hued glow. Other colors are made by incorporating other gasses including argon, mercury and phosphor. Regardless of the color of emissions, all signs and lights that are made using this basic premise, are generally considered to be neon lights.

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