The History of Neon

The concept behind neon signs was first conceived in 1675, when the French astronomer Jean Picard observed a faint glow in a mercury barometer tube. When the tube was shaken a glow called barometric light occurred, but the cause of the light (static electricity) was not then understood.

When the principles of electricity were discovered, scientists moved forward towards the invention of various forms of lighting. By 1855, there was the geissler tube named after Heinrich Geissler, a German glassblower. Gas in the tube was placed under low pressure and electrical voltage was applied, the result was that the gas glowed. After electrical generators were invented, many people experimented with applying electric power to tubes of gas. The French engineer, chemist, and inventor Georges Claude, was the first to apply an electrical discharge to a sealed tube of neon gas (circa 1902) to create a lamp.

The word neon comes from the Greek "neos," meaning "the new gas". Georges Claude displayed the first neon lamp to the public on December 11, 1910, in Paris. In 1923, Georges Claude and his French company Claude Neon, introduced neon gas signs to the United States, by selling two to a Packard car dealership in Los Angeles. Earle C. Anthony purchased the two signs reading "Packard" for $24,000. Neon lighting quickly became a popular fixture in outdoor advertising. Visible even in daylight, people would stop and stare at the first neon signs dubbed "liquid fire."