Signs of the Times - April 2014 - (Page 108)
About Neon's History
B y D y d i a D e Ly s e r a n d P a u l G r e e n s t e i n
(Ed. Note: In December, ST published Leon Dixon's
article about the "first neon sign in the U.S." Dixon
had contacted me more than a year ago, and I'd agreed
to publish his article. In the interim, I became aware of
Prof. DeLyser's research and some contrary evidence.
I'm still not certain who is more "right." I decided to
publish both articles separately in order to give each
an individual spotlight and, perhaps most importantly,
to elicit any other solid documentation on the subject.
I know opinions, theories, conjectures, etc. exist by the
dozens. I'm acutely aware of the power and permanence
of the published word, especially during this electronic
age, and I weighed my responsibility as a journalist to
publishing "the truth." So I fully accept responsibility
for publishing these two articles, with a confidence
that a greater good will be ultimately served.
- Wade Swormstedt
Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Security Paciﬁc National Bank Photograph Collection.
hat is a neon sign? Must it advertise a product,
service or business? Must it be sold as a product for
profit in a commercial venture? Must it be outdoors?
Must it run neon, or can it use another noble gas? Must
it actually say something? Or is it anything, in any
place, using electrically charged gas in a sealed tube?
The answers are critical in chronicling the history of
neon. Here, we don't claim to have discovered the
first neon sign in America, Europe, or anywhere, but
we provide selected early examples, and refute some
popular notions about neon's history.
Early use of electrical discharge, inside glass tubes,
is widely attributed to Johann Heinrich Wilhelm
Geissler in 1857. Geissler's tubes were fanciful in shape,
but spelled no words; they advertised no product, and
were not sold to customers.
By 1891, Nicola Tesla, as a sidebar to his work with
high-voltage power sources, was demonstrating wired
and wireless luminous tubing bent into representational
messages (letters, words, images). Tesla's efforts were
specifically constructed to draw attention to him and
his work, and, as such, were advertising, but none
were sold as end products.
In 1898, after neon's discovery as a noble gas that
could be separated from air, Burlington House, a London
science-and-art academy, made (or had made) a threecolor sign reading "Vical Victoria Regina" (ST reported
this in its December 1927 issue). It advertised Burlington's capabilities, but not its wares.
In 1926, this sign was installed at Los Angeles' busiest intersection - Wilshire and Western. The design, for Earle C. Anthony
Packard, Inc., is much like the 1925 7th and Flower billboard, and like that one, this is a partial neon construction.
108 SIGNS OF THE TIMES April 2014
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Signs of the Times - April 2014
Signs of the Times - April 2014
Columns & Departments
ISA Sign Expo 2014 – Making the most of it
Technology Review: Roland’s SOLJET Pro 4 XF-640 printer
Technology Review: EFI’s VUTEk GS2000/3250 digital-hybrid printers
Sign Museum News
The 2014 Intl. Sign Contest
2nd Annual Readers’ Choice Award
For the Record
ISA Expo Adds SEGD Component
Surprising Evidence about Neon’s History
Signs of the Times - April 2014