Neon lighting consists of brightly glowing, electrified glass tubes or bulbs that contain rarefied neon or other gases. Neon lights are a type of cold cathode gas-discharge light. A neon tube is a sealed glass tube with a metal electrode at each end, filled with one of a number of gases at low pressure. A high potential of several thousand volts applied to the electrodes ionizes the gas in the tube, causing it to emit colored light. The color of the light depends on the gas in the tube. Neon lights were named for neon, a noble gas which gives off a popular orange light, but other gases and chemicals are used to produce other colors, such as hydrogen (red), helium (yellow), carbon dioxide (white), and mercury (blue). Neon tubes can be fabricated in curving artistic shapes, to form letters or pictures. They are mainly used to make dramatic, multicolored glowing signage for advertising, called neon signs, which were popular from the 1920s to the 1950s.
The term can also refer to the miniature neon glow lamp, developed in 1917, about seven years after neon tube lighting.While neon tube lights are typically meters long, the neon lamps can be less than one centimeter in length and glow much more dimly than the tube lights. They are still in use as small indicator lights. Through the 1970s, neon glow lamps were widely used for numerical displays in electronics, for small decorative lamps, and as signal processing devices in circuity. While these lamps are now antiques, the technology of the neon glow lamp developed into contemporary plasma displays and televisions.
Neon was discovered in 1898 by the British scientists William Ramsay and Morris W. Travers. After obtaining pure neon from the atmosphere, they explored its properties using an "electrical gas-discharge" tube that was similar to the tubes used for neon signs today. Georges Claude, a French engineer and inventor, presented neon tube lighting in essentially its modern form at the Paris Motor Show from December 3–18, 1910.Claude, sometimes called "the Edison of France", had a near monopoly on the new technology, which became very popular for signage and displays in the period 1920-1940. Neon lighting was an important cultural phenomenon in the United States in that era; by 1940, the downtowns of nearly every city in the US were bright with neon signage, and Times Square in New York City was known worldwide for its neon extravagances. There were 2000 shops nationwide designing and fabricating neon signs. The popularity, intricacy, and scale of neon signage for advertising declined in the U.S. following the Second World War (1939–1945), but development continued vigorously in Japan, Iran, and some other countries. In recent decades architects and artists, in addition to sign designers, have again adopted neon tube lighting as a component in their works.
Neon lighting is closely related to fluorescent lighting, which developed about 25 years after neon tube lighting.In fluorescent lights, the light emitted by rarefied gases within a tube is used exclusively to excite fluorescent materials that coat the tube, which then shine with their own colors that become the tube's visible, usually white, glow. Fluorescent coatings and glasses are also an option for neon tube lighting, but are usually selected to obtain bright colors.
Neon is a noble gas chemical element and an inert gas that is a minor component of the Earth's atmosphere. It was discovered in 1898 by the British scientists William Ramsay and Morris W. Travers. When Ramsay and Travers had succeeded in obtaining pure neon from the atmosphere, they explored its properties using an "electrical gas-discharge" tube that was similar to the tubes used today for neon signs. Travers later wrote, "the blaze of crimson light from the tube told its own story and was a sight to dwell upon and never forget."The procedure of examining the colors of the light emitted from gas-discharge (or "Geissler" tubes) was well-known at the time, since the colors of light (the "spectral lines") emitted by a gas discharge tube are, essentially, fingerprints that identify the gases inside.
Immediately following neon's discovery, neon tubes were used as scientific instruments and novelties. 12-metre (39 ft) long), bright red neon tubes at the Paris Motor Show.However, the scarcity of purified neon gas precluded its prompt application for electrical gas-discharge lighting along the lines of Moore tubes, which used more common nitrogen or carbon dioxide as the working gas, and enjoyed some commercial success in the US in the early 1900s. After 1902, Georges Claude's company in France, Air Liquide, began producing industrial quantities of neon as a byproduct of the air liquefaction business. From December 3–18, 1910, Claude demonstrated two large (
These neon tubes were essentially in their contemporary form. mm; with standard electrical equipment, the tubes can be as long as 30 metres (98 ft). The pressure of the gas inside is in the range 3-20 Torr (0.4-3 kPa), which corresponds to a partial vacuum in the tubing. Claude had also solved two technical problems that substantially shortened the working life of neon and some other gas discharge tubes, and effectively gave birth to a neon lighting industry. In 1915 a US patent was issued to Claude covering the design of the electrodes for gas-discharge lighting; this patent became the basis for the monopoly held in the US by his company, Claude Neon Lights, for neon signs through the early 1930s.The range of outer diameters for the glass tubing used in neon lighting is 9 to 25
Claude's patents envisioned the use of gases such as argon and mercury vapor to create different colors beyond those produced by neon. For instance, mixing metallic mercury with neon gas create blue. Green can then be achieved using uranium (yellow) glass. White and gold can also be created with adding argon and helium.In the 1920s, fluorescent glasses and coatings were developed to further expand the range of colors and effects for tubes with argon gas or argon-neon mixtures; generally, the fluorescent coatings are used with an argon/mercury-vapor mixture, which emits ultraviolet light that activates the fluorescent coatings. By the 1930s, the colors from combinations of neon tube lights had become satisfactory for some general interior lighting applications, and achieved some success in Europe, but not in the US. Since the 1950s, the development of phosphors for color televisions has created nearly 100 new colors for neon tube lighting.
Around 1917, Daniel McFarlan Moore, then working at the General Electric Company, developed the miniature neon lamp. The glow lamp has a very different design than the much larger neon tubes used for signage; the difference was sufficient that a separate US patent was issued for the lamp in 1919.A Smithsonian Institution website notes, "These small, low power devices use a physical principle called "coronal discharge." Moore mounted two electrodes close together in a bulb and added neon or argon gas. The electrodes would glow brightly in red or blue, depending on the gas, and the lamps lasted for years. Since the electrodes could take almost any shape imaginable, a popular application has been fanciful decorative lamps. Glow lamps found practical use as electronic components, and as indicators in instrument panels and in many home appliances until the acceptance of Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs) starting in the 1970s."
Although some neon lamps themselves are now antiques, and their use in electronics has declined markedly, the technology has continued to develop in artistic and entertainment contexts.Neon lighting technology has been reshaped from long tubes into thin flat panels used for plasma displays and plasma television sets.
When Georges Claude demonstrated an impressive, practical form of neon tube lighting in 1910, he apparently envisioned that it would be used as a form of lighting, which had been the application of the earlier Moore tubes that were based on nitrogen and carbon dioxide discharges. Claude's 1910 demonstration of neon lighting at the Grand Palais (Grand Palace) in Paris lit a peristyle of this large exhibition space.Claude's associate, Jacques Fonseque, realized the possibilities for a business based on signage and advertising. By 1913 a large sign for the vermouth Cinzano illuminated the night sky in Paris, and by 1919 the entrance to the Paris Opera was adorned with neon tube lighting.
Neon signage was received with particular enthusiasm in the United States. In 1923, Earle C. Anthony purchased two neon signs from Claude for his Packard car dealership in Los Angeles, California; these literally stopped traffic.Claude's US patents had secured him a monopoly on neon signage, and following Anthony's success with neon signs, many companies arranged franchises with Claude to manufacture neon signs. In many cases companies were given exclusive licenses for the production of neon signs in a given geographical area; by 1931, the value of the neon sign business was $16.9 million, of which a significant percentage was paid to Claude Neon Lights, Inc. by the franchising arrangements. Claude's principal patent expired in 1932, which led to a great expansion in the production of neon signage. The industry's sales in 1939 were about $22.0 million; the expansion in volume from 1931 to 1939 was much larger than the ratio of sales in the two years suggests.
Rudi Stern has written, "The 1930s were years of great creativity for neon, a period when many design and animation techniques were developed. ... Men like O. J. Gude and, in particular, Douglas Leigh took neon advertising further than Georges Claude and his associates had ever envisioned. Leigh, who conceived and created the archetypal Times Square spectacular, experimented with displays that incorporated smells, fog, and sounds as part of their total effect. ... Much of the visual excitement of Times Square in the thirties was a result of Leigh's genius as a kinetic and luminal artist."Major cities throughout the United States and in several other countries also had elaborate displays of neon signs. 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 remarkable for their extensive use of neon tubes as architectural features. Stern has argued that the creation of "glorious" neon displays for movie theaters led to an association of the two, "One's joy in going to the movies became inseparably associated with neon."
The Second World War (1939–1945) arrested new sign installations around most of the world. Following the war, the industry resumed. Marcus Thielen writes of this era, "...after World War II, government programs were established to help re-educate soldiers. The Egani Institute (New York City) was one of few schools in the country that taught neon-trade secrets. The American streamlined design from the 1950s would be unimaginable without the use of neon."The development of Las Vegas, Nevada as a resort city is inextricably linked with neon signage; Tom Wolfe wrote in 1965, "Las Vegas is the only city in the world whose skyline is made neither of buildings, like New York, nor of trees, like Wilbraham, Massachusetts, but signs. One can look at Las Vegas from a mile away on route 91 and see no buildings, no trees, only signs. But such signs! They tower. They revolve, they oscillate, they soar in shapes before which the existing vocabulary of art history is helpless."
Overall, however, neon displays became less fashionable, and some cities discouraged their construction with ordinances.Nelson Algren titled his 1947 collection of short stories The Neon Wilderness (as a synonym of "urban jungle" for Chicago). Margalit Fox has written, "... after World War II, as neon signs were replaced increasingly by fluorescent-lighted plastic, the art of bending colored tubes into sinuous, gas-filled forms began to wane." A dark age persisted at least through the 1970s, when artists adopted neon with enthusiasm; in 1979 Rudi Stern published his manifesto, Let There Be Neon. Marcus Thielen wrote in 2005, on the 90th anniversary of the US patent issued to Georges Claude, "The demand for the use of neon and cold cathode in architectural applications is growing, and the introduction of new techniques like fiberoptics and LED — into the sign market have strengthened, rather than replaced, neon technology. The evolution of the 'waste' product neon tube remains incomplete 90 years after the patent was filed."
In neon glow lamps, the luminous region of the gas is a thin, "negative glow" region immediately adjacent to a negatively charged electrode (or "cathode"); the positively charged electrode ("anode") is quite close to the cathode. These features distinguish glow lamps from the much longer and brighter "positive column" luminous regions in neon tube lighting.The energy dissipation in the lamps when they are glowing is very low (about 0.1 W), hence the distinguishing term cold-cathode lighting.
Some of the applications of neon lamps include:
The small size of the negative glow region of a neon lamp, and the flexible electronic properties that were exploited in electronic circuits, led to the adoption of this technology for the earliest plasma panel displays. The first monochrome dot matrix plasma panel displays were developed in 1964 at the University of Illinois for the PLATO educational computing system. They had the characteristic color of the neon lamp; their inventors, Donald L. Bitzer, H. Gene Slottow, and Robert H. Wilson, had achieved a working computer display that remembered its own state, and did not require constant refreshing from the central computer system. The relationship between these early monochrome displays and contemporary, color plasma displays and televisions was described by Larry F. Weber in 2006, "All plasma TVs on the market today have the same features that were demonstrated in the first plasma display which was a device with only a single cell. These features include alternating sustain voltage, dielectric layer, wall charge, and a neon-based gas mixture."As in colored neon lamps, plasma displays use a gas mixture that emits ultraviolet light. Each pixel has a phosphor that emits one of the display's base colors.
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The mid to late 1980s was a period of resurgence in neon production. Sign companies developed a new type of signage called channel lettering, in which individual letters were fashioned from sheet metal.
While the market for neon lighting in outdoor advertising signage has declined since the mid twentieth century, in recent decades neon lighting has been used consciously in art, both in individual objects and integrated into architecture. Frank Popper traces the use of neon lighting as the principal element in artworks to Gyula Košice's late 1940s work in Argentina. Among the later artists whom Popper notes in a brief history of neon lighting in art are Stephen Antonakos, the conceptual artists Joseph Kosuth and Bruce Nauman, Martial Raysse, Chryssa, Piotr Kowalski, Maurizio Nannucci and François Morelletin addition to Lucio Fontana or Mario Merz.
Several museums in the United States are now devoted to neon lighting and art, including the Museum of Neon Art (founded by neon artist Lili Lakich, Los Angeles, 1981), the Neon Museum (Las Vegas, founded 1996), the American Sign Museum (Cincinnati, founded 1999). These museums restore and display historical signage that was originally designed as advertising, in addition to presenting exhibits of neon art. Several books of photographs have also been published to draw attention to neon lighting as art.In 1994, Christian Schiess has published an anthology of photographs and interviews devoted to fifteen "light artists".
An electric light is a device that produces visible light from electric current. It is the most common form of artificial lighting and is essential to modern society, providing interior lighting for buildings and exterior light for evening and nighttime activities. In technical usage, a replaceable component that produces light from electricity is called a lamp. Lamps are commonly called light bulbs; for example, the incandescent light bulb. Lamps usually have a base made of ceramic, metal, glass, or plastic, which secures the lamp in the socket of a light fixture. The electrical connection to the socket may be made with a screw-thread base, two metal pins, two metal caps or a bayonet cap.
Neon is a chemical element with the symbol Ne and atomic number 10. It is a noble gas. Neon is a colorless, odorless, inert monatomic gas under standard conditions, with about two-thirds the density of air. It was discovered in 1898 as one of the three residual rare inert elements remaining in dry air, after nitrogen, oxygen, argon and carbon dioxide were removed. Neon was the second of these three rare gases to be discovered and was immediately recognized as a new element from its bright red emission spectrum. The name neon is derived from the Greek word, νέον, neuter singular form of νέος (neos), meaning new. Neon is chemically inert, and no uncharged neon compounds are known. The compounds of neon currently known include ionic molecules, molecules held together by van der Waals forces and clathrates.
A Nixie tube, or cold cathode display, is an electronic device for displaying numerals or other information using glow discharge.
A fluorescent lamp, or fluorescent tube, is a low-pressure mercury-vapor gas-discharge lamp that uses fluorescence to produce visible light. An electric current in the gas excites mercury vapor, which produces short-wave ultraviolet light that then causes a phosphor coating on the inside of the lamp to glow. A fluorescent lamp converts electrical energy into useful light much more efficiently than incandescent lamps. The typical luminous efficacy of fluorescent lighting systems is 50–100 lumens per watt, several times the efficacy of incandescent bulbs with comparable light output.
A cold cathode is a cathode that is not electrically heated by a filament. A cathode may be considered "cold" if it emits more electrons than can be supplied by thermionic emission alone. It is used in gas-discharge lamps, such as neon lamps, discharge tubes, and some types of vacuum tube. The other type of cathode is a hot cathode, which is heated by electric current passing through a filament. A cold cathode does not necessarily operate at a low temperature: it is often heated to its operating temperature by other methods, such as the current passing from the cathode into the gas.
A plasma display panel (PDP) is a type of flat panel display that uses small cells containing plasma; ionized gas that responds to electric fields.
A neon lamp is a miniature gas discharge lamp. The lamp typically consists of a small glass capsule that contains a mixture of neon and other gases at a low pressure and two electrodes. When sufficient voltage is applied and sufficient current is supplied between the electrodes, the lamp produces an orange glow discharge. The glowing portion in the lamp is a thin region near the cathode; the larger and much longer neon signs are also glow discharges, but they use the positive column which is not present in the ordinary neon lamp. Neon glow lamps were widely used as indicator lamps in the displays of electronic instruments and appliances.
In the signage industry, neon signs are electric signs lighted by long luminous gas-discharge tubes that contain rarefied neon or other gases. They are the most common use for neon lighting, which was first demonstrated in a modern form in December 1910 by Georges Claude at the Paris Motor Show. While they are used worldwide, neon signs were popular in the United States from about 1920–1960. The installations in Times Square, many originally designed by Douglas Leigh, were famed, and there were nearly 2,000 small shops producing neon signs by 1940. In addition to signage, neon lighting is used frequently by artists and architects, and in plasma display panels and televisions. The signage industry has declined in the past several decades, and cities are now concerned with preserving and restoring their antique neon signs.
A gas-filled tube, also known as a discharge tube, is an arrangement of electrodes in a gas within an insulating, temperature-resistant envelope. Gas-filled tubes exploit phenomena related to electric discharge in gases, and operate by ionizing the gas with an applied voltage sufficient to cause electrical conduction by the underlying phenomena of the Townsend discharge. A gas-discharge lamp is an electric light using a gas-filled tube; these include fluorescent lamps, metal-halide lamps, sodium-vapor lamps, and neon lights. Specialized gas-filled tubes such as krytrons, thyratrons, and ignitrons are used as switching devices in electric devices.
Daniel McFarlan Moore was a U.S. electrical engineer and inventor. He developed a novel light source, the "Moore lamp", and a business that produced them in the early 1900s. The Moore lamp was the first commercially viable light-source based on gas discharges instead of incandescence; it was the predecessor to contemporary neon lighting and fluorescent lighting. In his later career Moore developed a miniature neon lamp that was extensively used in electronic displays, as well as vacuum tubes that were used in early television systems.
A glow discharge is a plasma formed by the passage of electric current through a gas. It is often created by applying a voltage between two electrodes in a glass tube containing a low-pressure gas. When the voltage exceeds a value called the striking voltage, the gas ionization becomes self-sustaining, and the tube glows with a colored light. The color depends on the gas used.
A plasma globe or plasma lamp is a clear glass container filled with a mixture of various noble gases with a high-voltage electrode in the center of the container.
High-intensity discharge lamps are a type of electrical gas-discharge lamp which produces light by means of an electric arc between tungsten electrodes housed inside a translucent or transparent fused quartz or fused alumina arc tube. This tube is filled with noble gas and often also contains suitable metal or metal salts. The noble gas enables the arc's initial strike. Once the arc is started, it heats and evaporates the metallic admixture. Its presence in the arc plasma greatly increases the intensity of visible light produced by the arc for a given power input, as the metals have many emission spectral lines in the visible part of the spectrum. High-intensity discharge lamps are a type of arc lamp.
A Geissler tube is an early gas discharge tube used to demonstrate the principles of electrical glow discharge, similar to modern neon lighting. The tube was invented by the German physicist and glassblower Heinrich Geissler in 1857. It consists of a sealed, partially evacuated glass cylinder of various shapes with a metal electrode at each end, containing rarefied gasses such as neon, argon, or air; mercury vapor or other conductive fluids; or ionizable minerals or metals, such as sodium. When a high voltage is applied between the electrodes, an electrical current flows through the tube. The current dissociates electrons from the gas molecules, creating ions, and when the electrons recombine with the ions, the gas emits light by fluorescence. The color of light emitted is characteristic of the material within the tube, and many different colors and lighting effects can be achieved. The first gas-discharge lamps, Geissler tubes were novelty items, made in many artistic shapes and colors to demonstrate the new science of electricity. In the early 20th century, the technology was commercialized and evolved into neon lighting.
A mercury-vapor lamp is a gas discharge lamp that uses an electric arc through vaporized mercury to produce light. The arc discharge is generally confined to a small fused quartz arc tube mounted within a larger borosilicate glass bulb. The outer bulb may be clear or coated with a phosphor; in either case, the outer bulb provides thermal insulation, protection from the ultraviolet radiation the light produces, and a convenient mounting for the fused quartz arc tube.
An electric arc, or arc discharge, is an electrical breakdown of a gas that produces a prolonged electrical discharge. The current through a normally nonconductive medium such as air produces a plasma; the plasma may produce visible light. An arc discharge is characterized by a lower voltage than a glow discharge and relies on thermionic emission of electrons from the electrodes supporting the arc. An archaic term is voltaic arc, as used in the phrase "voltaic arc lamp".
The internal electrodeless lamp or induction lamp is a gas discharge lamp in which an electric or magnetic field transfers the power required to generate light from outside the lamp envelope to the gas inside. This is in contrast to a typical gas discharge lamp that uses internal electrodes connected to the power supply by conductors that pass through the lamp envelope. Eliminating the internal electrodes provides two advantages:
Gas-discharge lamps are a family of artificial light sources that generate light by sending an electric discharge through an ionized gas, a plasma. Typically, such lamps use a noble gas or a mixture of these gases. Some include additional substances, like mercury, sodium, and metal halides, which are vaporized during startup to become part of the gas mixture. In operation, some of the electrons are forced to leave the atoms of the gas near the anode by the electric field applied between the two electrodes, leaving these atoms positively ionized. The free electrons thus released flow onto the anode, while the cations thus formed are accelerated by the electric field and flow towards the cathode. Typically, after traveling a very short distance, the ions collide with neutral gas atoms, which transfer their electrons to the ions. The atoms, having lost an electron during the collisions, ionize and speed toward the cathode while the ions, having gained an electron during the collisions, return to a lower energy state while releasing energy in the form of photons. Light of a characteristic frequency is thus emitted. In this way, electrons are relayed through the gas from the cathode to the anode. The color of the light produced depends on the emission spectra of the atoms making up the gas, as well as the pressure of the gas, current density, and other variables. Gas discharge lamps can produce a wide range of colors. Some lamps produce ultraviolet radiation which is converted to visible light by a fluorescent coating on the inside of the lamp's glass surface. The fluorescent lamp is perhaps the best known gas-discharge lamp.
A Penning mixture, named after Frans Michel Penning, is a mixture of gases used in electric lighting or displaying fixtures. Although the popular phrase for the most common of these is a neon lamp, it is more efficient to have the glass tube filled not with pure neon, but with a Penning mixture, which is defined as a mixture of one inert gas with a minute amount of another gas, one that has lower ionization voltage than the main constituent.
A glow switch starter is a type of preheat starter used with fluorescent lamp. It is commonly filled with neon gas or argon gas and contains a bimetallic strip and a stationary electrode. The operating principle is simple, when current is applied, the gas inside ionizes and heats a bimetallic strip which in turn bends toward the stationary electrode thus shorting the starter between the electrodes of the fluorescent lamp After a second the starter's bimetallic strip will cool and open the circuit between the electrodes and the process repeats until the lamp has lit. One disadvantage of glow switch starters is that when the lamp is at the end of its life it will continuously blink on and off until the glow switch starter wears out or an electrode on the fluorescent lamp burns out.
Plasma displays are closely related to the simple neon lamp.
Americans, oddly, aren't so crazy about neon as the Japanese and the Europeans, although it could be argued that neon, discovered by the French inventor Georges Claude in 1910, is largely an American phenomenon.As explained in this article, Claude did not discover neon.
Before yesterday's 8-to-2 vote to revise the ordinance, rooftop signs were not allowed on San Jose high-rise buildings, nor were colored neon signs. In addition, the maximum allowable size of signs on high-rise buildings was only 750 square feet.
California artist Michael Hayden was selected to design a lighting sculpture synchronized with music and orchestrated with architecture. Hayden's solution, Sky's the Limit, uses 466 neon tubes and extends 744 feet.