The word neon was coined from the Greek “neos”, which means new gas. The inert gas Neon which gives the neon sign its distinct color and brightness was discovered in 1898 by Scottish chemist William Ramsay and the English scientist Morris Travers. It occurs naturally in the atmosphere, albeit in minute quantities Smithers of Stamford.
The Geissler tube was the forerunner of modern-day neon light. Although this tube was not intended for commercial use it actually made it possible for scientists to study electrical glow discharge. It was this concept that was used by both Nikolas Tesla’s neon lamp and George Claude’s neon sign. The neon sign that George Claude did was similar to the signs that we know today. He allowed a small amount of current to pass through a combination of inert gases to produce vibrant lights in various colors. He also found out that the glass tubing holding the inert gases can be twisted into various positions.
The forerunner of the modern-day neon bar signs that George Claude made were first introduced to the public in 1910 during the Paris Exposition. The first major company that saw the potential of this innovation was the Packard Motor Company who signed up for more than a thousand dollars’ worth of these bright new signs.
The year 1923 saw the crossing of the neon signs from Europe to America. However, it was during the 1950’s that the neon signs reached its pinnacle of popularity with places like Times Square and Las Vegas making use of it in every possible way. Beer pubs, clubs and casinos made use of neon signs to advertise their products as well as to catch the attention of customers.
What started as a simple way to study electrical glow discharge has grown into an important part of our business community. So the next time you pass by a business with that familiar glow in the window, keep in mind that you are staring at something that has long been part of man’s history.