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100 Years of Neon Signs

(January 2010) posted on Wed Jan 12, 2011

Or is 160 years more correct?


By Marcus Thielen

click an image below to view slideshow

I’m writing these lines on the neon sign‘s 100th birthday. I’m standing on historical soil, wherethe father of the first luminous sign was born. No, I‘m not sitting under the Eiffel Tower in Paris, as most readers would expect, but on the heights of the Rennsteig, a former medieval trade road that’s now a hiking trail in the Thuringian Forest in Germany. But let‘s go back a few hundred years further and start from the beginning.

Glassmaking was perfected in Roman times. In fact, the ancient products and techniques couldn’t be replicated until the late 20th Century. Slightly later, alchemists appreciated glass because it withstood not only the aggressive action of acids, heat and other experimental conditions, but, also, its transparency permitted the experimenter to view what was going on inside.

Glassmaking consumed more wood than even Roman shipyards. After the decline of the Roman Empire in the Middle Ages, glassmaking businesses would repeatedly deplete surrounding forests, then move to the next wooded area.


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In 1597, when the Thuringian Forest was untouched and impassable, Johann Casimir, the Duke of Saxony-Meiningen, wanted to convert forest into agricultural areas to feed his starving populace. So, he invited glassmakers to settle at the Lauscha Creek, and he bestowed honors for each acre of forest that was logged and converted.

Lauscha’s glass industry prospered, and the region’s population exploded (winter is bitterly cold there). Thus, the next generations were forced to spread out and establish more glass factories nearby.

Rapid population growth also mercury vapor “lamp.” Later, scientists such as Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Priestley and Humphrey Davy investigated “the passage of electrical fluid through different kinds of air” using glass vessels and electrostatic machinery.

But, their experiments were rarely repeatable due to unavailability of proper vacuum pumps, pressure gauges or gas analytics. They couldn’t contain the gas inside the glass vessel for long – the electrical wires that fed the current in and out couldn’t be passed through the glass wall tightly. To further seal the tubes, they applied beeswax and rosin, which added gaseous components, and, in the process, air leaked in.


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Comments

SVP Neon Equipment says: Nice history lesson, Marcus. Well done! posted on: Mon, 01/24/2011 - 8:57am
rish says: Terrific article! We're, of course, big supporters of neon signs, and appreciate both the nostalgia as well as the real, current, reasons to prefer neon over led signs in the right circumstances! posted on: Thu, 02/24/2011 - 4:23pm
vincebryce says: The continues evolution of digital printing even more gives vast space for neon signs to glow more their campaigns towards marketing aspects. And that every businesses and company names are seen everywhere ...

The continues evolution of digital printing even more gives vast space for neon signs to glow more their campaigns towards marketing aspects. And that every businesses and company names are seen everywhere across the long and winding road. Our clients that works with out business program via http://www.digitekprinting.com/digital-printing is using digital medium for neon signs.

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