Even though neon signs fell out of fashion in the 1980s/90s, they are still very popular for service businesses, restaurants, and retail shops. The neon signs communicate information in style and urgency, from the simplest “open” sign to elaborate art installations.
- Historians think the first experiments with lighted tubes were in the late 1600s. However, neon signs, as we know them today, have only been around for a little more than a century. After discovering several “new gases,” including neon, Sir William Ramsay received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1904). In 1910, Georges Claude, a French engineer, invented the neon lamp. Two years later, Claude sold the first neon sign for commercial use to his business partner.
- Because neon signs can be seen clearly by customers even at night, they have been popular since 1912. The neon signs can be used outdoors to complement vibrant backdrops and create streetscape signage as well as functional works of art. These signs were very visible during America’s expansion of roadside culture in the 1960s and 1950s. Businesses use neon signs to aid passersby in making decisions. To lure tourists, hotels use neon “vacancy” signs.
- While custom neon signs have seen little change since their introduction to America back in the 1920s and are still very popular marketing tools, neon has not always been a part of them. Designers led a resurgence in neon signage in the late 1990s. Engineers advanced the use of different gas mixtures for signs’ expanded color spectrums. Depending on the sign’s color, “neon” signs might contain helium or carbon dioxide. LED and fiber optic technologies enable more efficient signage. They can be made into familiar, neon-like forms.
- Business owners are accused by historians and architects of adding to visual clutter through the use of LED neon signs. The message a neon sign sends is as important as the aesthetic that it lends to its surroundings. This must be considered by company owners when selecting neon signs for businesses. There are many opinions about neon signs in different areas. New Yorkers were unhappy about a neon umbrella that was attached to the bank headquarters. Bostonians loved the iconic sign at their gas station and fought back against their foreign owners.
- The vintage neon sign owners are now attracted to both customers and visitors. Historic commissions and restoration societies work hard to preserve the most beloved custom neon signs in the country, adding prestige to those businesses that have owned them over the years. Neon signs are now a universally recognized way to tell if a store is open.