“On this day in 1910, the renowned French engineer and chemist Georges Claude publicly debuted neon light at the Paris Motor Show. Over the next fifty years neon would soar in use, illuminating thousands of signs across the globe, most famously in New York’s Times Square. The technology of Claude’s neon glow lamp is still widely used today, especially as a component of plasma displays and televisions.
As a chemist, Claude made a series of notable discoveries. In his studies of inert gases, he found that by passing electrical current through them, they would produce light. Subsequently, he produced the neon lamp and his display in Paris was in the form of two long tubes. The adaption to signage was obvious and the first sign was reportedly sold to a Parisian barber in 1912. Claude would go on to become a man of considerable wealth.
In 1923, Claude’s company sold two neon signs to a Los Angeles-based car dealer and business pioneer, Earle C. Anthony. Neon and America were seemingly made for one another. Within less than twenty years, there were nearly 2000 businesses in the United States producing neon signs. By the 1950s urban centres were literally lit with commercial signage and advertisements–some of which still exist today.
Along with the ability to shape the tubes, neon’s greatest attractions to advertisers were the incredible variety of colours available (over 150 created by different combinations of gases) and its longevity. Indeed, today a plethora of signs have achieved classic status, from Times Square to Iran. Lately, local enthusiasts have begun cataloging signs, many of which have been preserved as historical and cultural icons.
Claude’s invention continues to inspire people and illuminate cities to this day.”
Credit: © Cosmo Condina North America / Alamy
Caption: George Claude’s neon glow lamp has come a long way since 1910. Neon now decorates cities worldwide, from Times Square in New York City to Tokyo, Japan.