Neon was discovered in 1898 by William Ramsey and Morris W. Travers. They soon found out the characteristic, brilliant red color that gets emitted by gaseous neon when electrically triggered. Neon is a chemical element and an inert gas that is a minor component of the Earth’s atmosphere.
When Ramsey and Travers succeeded in obtaining some virgin neon from the atmosphere, they examined its properties using an electrical gas-discharge tube that would resemble the tubes used today for neon light signs. The scarcity of neon however prevented its immediate application for electrical lighting.
A neon lamp may be described as a miniature gas discharge lamp that typically holds neon gas at a low pressure in a glass capsule. Many people may not be aware that it was the French engineer, chemist, and inventor Georges Claude who was the first person to apply an electrical discharge to a sealed tube of neon in 1902 to create a neon lamp.
Air Liquide, a company co-founded by Georges Claude with Paul Delorme in 1902, is today a worldwide group that operates in 60 countries and employs more than 30,000 people.
Georges Claude showcased the first neon lamp to the public on December 11, 1910, in Paris. Claude’s first public display was two 38-foot long tubes at the Paris Expo in December 1910. Then in 1913, 3 foot tall letters were installed on the Champs-Elysees that spelled out “CINZANO”.
Georges Claude subsequently patented the neon lighting tube on Jan. 19th, 1915 and began to sell patent licenses worldwide. It is noteworthy that in the year 1919, he decorated the entrance to the beautiful, world-renowned Pairs Opera House with red and blue tubes.
Claude had also reportedly solved two major technical problems that shortened the working life of neon and some other gas discharge tubes and became the father figure to the neon lighting industry. In fact, Claude envisioned the use of certain other gases such as argon and mercury vapor to create different colors beyond the standard ones produced by neon.
By the 1930s, the colors from combinations of neon tube lights had become commonplace for general interior lighting applications. Since the 1950s, the development of phosphors for color televisions has created nearly 100 new colors for neon tube lighting. Rudi Stern writes, “The 1930s were years of great creativity for neon, a period when many design and animation techniques were developed”.
Memorable events such as the Chicago Century of Progress Exposition (1933-34), the Paris World’s Fair (1937) and New York World’s Fair (1939) were widely appreciated for their extensive use of neon lights.
In the year 1923, Georges Claude and his French employer Claude Neon, introduced neon gas signs to the United States and sold two lamps to a Packard car dealership in Los Angeles. Neon sign was received with great enthusiasm in the United States. Soon thereafter, Neon lighting became a widely-used fixture in outdoor advertising.