Neon Sign Boards
In the signage industry, neon signs are electric signs lighted by long luminous gas-discharge tubes that contain rarefied neon or other gases. They are the most common use forneon lighting, which was first demonstrated in a modern form in December 1910 by Georges Claude at the Paris Motor Show. While they are used worldwide, neon signs were extremely popular in the United States. The installations in Times Square, many originally designed by Douglas Leigh, were famed, and there were nearly 2000 small shops producing neon signs by 1940.
In addition to signage, neon lighting is now used frequently by artists and architects, and in plasma display panels and televisions. The signage industry has declined in the past several decades, and cities are now concerned with preserving and restoring their antique neon signs.
The neon sign is an evolution of the earlier Geissler tube, which is an electrified glass tube containing a “rarefied” gas (the gas pressure in the tube is well below atmospheric pressure). When a voltage is applied to electrodes inserted through the glass, an electrical glow discharge results. Geissler tubes were quite popular in the late 1800s, and the different colors they emitted were characteristics of the gases within. They were, however, unsuitable for general lighting; the pressure of the gas inside typically declined in use. The direct predecessor of neon tube lighting was the Moore tube, which used nitrogen or carbon dioxide as the luminous gas and a patented mechanism for maintaining pressure; Moore tubes were sold for commercial lighting for a number of years in the early 1900s.
The discovery of neon in 1898 included the observation of a brilliant red glow in Geissler tubes. Immediately following neon’s discovery, neon tubes were used as scientific instruments and novelties. A sign created by Perley G. Nutting and displaying the word “neon” may have been shown at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904, although this claim has been disputed; in any event, the scarcity of neon would have precluded the development of a lighting product. However, after 1902, Georges Claude’s company in France, Air Liquide, began producing industrial quantities of neon, essentially as a byproduct of their air liquefaction business. From December 3–18, 1910, Claude demonstrated two 12-metre (39 ft) long bright red neon tubes at the Paris Motor Show. This demonstration lit a peristyle of the Grand Palais (a large exhibition hall). Claude’s associate, Jacques Fonsèque, realized the possibilities for a business based on signage and advertising. By 1913 a large sign for the vermouthCinzano illuminated the night sky in Paris, and by 1919 the entrance to the Paris Opera was adorned with neon tube lighting. Over the next several years, patents were granted to Claude for two innovations still used today: a “bombardment” technique to remove impurities from the working gas of a sealed sign, and a design for the internalelectrodes of the sign that prevented their degradation by sputtering