When Neon Owned the Night

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Fantastic piece by Jeff Giles in The New York Times that details the history of neon signage and what it meant to the collective American imagination.

Between the 1930s and the 1970s, neon signs were a potent American symbol for both glamour and depravity, hope and desolation. In movies, how many star-struck ingénues have gazed up at the bright lights of Broadway? How many down-and-out characters have checked into a seedy hotel and found a malfunctioning sign buzzing like a bug-zapper outside their window?

In 1898, the Scottish chemist William Ramsay was collaborating with an English colleague, Morris Travers, when he discovered an inert gas, naming it “neon” after the Greek word for “new.” He went on to win a Nobel Prize for his work, though it did not occur to him to use his discovery to sell theater tickets or beer. It was the French inventor Georges Claude who sensed a new industry in the offing. Mr. Claude unveiled a neon light at the Paris Motor Show in December 1910, and went on to create all manner of signs for clients.

Read more.


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