Neon Lights History and the Rise of LED Neon
Neon lights are a signage staple, but they weren’t always. In the early 1900s, two men discovered neon’s potential for advertising and started a revolution. In modern day, LED neon is on the rise, innovating and improving upon traditional neon signs. Let’s take a look at the history of these marketing marvels.
The Discovery of Neon
Of course, there would never have been a neon light without the discovery of neon gas. British chemists Sir William Ramsay and Morris Travers discovered the element in 1898 along with two other elements. They removed oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and argon from air. What was left over were the noble gasses krypton, xenon, and neon.
The First Neon Lights: Geissler and Moore Tubes
The concept of using gasses to create light existed before neon lights. Moore tubes—which used nitrogen to create light—were fairly well-known in the early 1900s. There were also Geissler tubes, scientific tools used to identify gasses based on the color they produced. In fact, Geissler tubes were used in neon’s discovery.
However, neon’s scarcity prevented people from capitalizing on the bright light neon emitted under the right conditions. These tubes were novelties or scientific tools, not meant for commercial application.
Georges Claude, Inventor of the Neon Sign
That began changing in 1902. Georges Claude, a Frenchman and owner of the company Air Liquide, began producing neon in large amounts. In 1910, he demonstrated two 12-meter neon tubes at the Paris Motor Show. The bright red light astounded the crowd, and Jacques Fonsèque—Claude’s associate—realized the business potential of neon signs.
Over the next few years, Claude patented several neon innovations—some of which are still used in neon signs today. Additionally, he began selling neon signs to businesses and institutions in France. In 1923, Claude sold some neon lights to a car dealership in Los Angeles. These were the first neon signs sold in the United States. From there, the popularity of neon signs skyrocketed.
Companies began franchising with Claude for the right to manufacture neon signs. Throughout the 1930s, neon signage reached its heyday with designers like O.J. Gude and Douglas Leigh. Leigh’s most notable achievement was designing much of Time Square’s iconic neon.
While neon’s popularity would fade in the wake of World War II, the iconic form persists to this day.
The Rise of LED Neon Lights
Though LED lights have been around almost as long as neon lights, they didn’t begin seeing use as a replacement for neon until the late 1960s. Though LEDs had been used as a replacement for neon before that point, they were far too expensive for practical use. In 1968, however, Hewlett-Packard and Monsanto began mass-producing LED lights.
Though the first LED lights were exclusively red, more colors became available as the years progressed. Sometime in the early 2000s, people began putting colorful LEDs in tube-shaped lights. This eventually led to the creation of LED lights that perfectly mimicked neon lights.
Since LED neon signs are quieter, more affordable, and easier to maintain than traditional neon, they’re quickly rising to popularity.
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