Tracing the History of Neon Signs

Antique neon sign
Antique neon sign

When was the first neon sign invented? The history of neon signs has its roots in the early 1900s, when French chemist, Georges Claude, started experimenting with discharge tubes containing neon. If you want to know more about the evolution of neon signs, read on. We’ll look at the origins of neon signage and trace its development up to the present day.

What are Neon Signs?

Neon signs are an iconic symbol of modern culture – a popular way to draw attention, evoke emotion, or add style to any space. Before we can dive into the neon sign history, let’s begin with a brief mention of what these signs are:

Neon signs are illuminated, eye-catching displays featuring electrified neon tubes or other rare gases. They emit bright, colorful light and can be used for advertising or decorating. Neon signs also come in a variety of shapes and forms. This design flexibility makes them ideal for any setting.

For example, you can use neon signs to promote your business, create a unique atmosphere in a restaurant or bar, or even use them as decorative pieces in your home. So, who invented neon signs, and when was the first neon sign made?

A neon sign museum
A neon sign museum

History of Neon Signs

The history of neon signs takes us back to the 1900s. During this time, little was known about neon gas and its potential for use in signage lights. However, after Georges Claude (a French chemist) discovered the glow of neon when used in discharge tubes, it didn’t take long before the first neon sign was created – in Paris.

From Paris, these signs quickly spread to America and, eventually, the entire world. During those days, neon signs were modern and exciting, and they would soon become a staple of global advertising.

The evolution of neon signs has been astounding, and their power to draw people’s attention and evoke emotion vigorously all through. Let’s now trace the history of neon signs and how this colorful invention spread its wings worldwide.

When Were Neon signs Invented?

Neon signs for advertising were first invented in Paris, France, in 1910 by Georges Claude. He had just started a business to mass-liquefy air, a process that isolated rare gases as byproducts. This allowed him to make – and experiment with neon-filled tubes. It was also during this time that he patented his technology.

In 1912, Georges Claude used neon tubes to advertise a barber shop. This was the first neon sign in Paris at that time. It’s also credited by many as being the world’s first neon sign; in this very place, the iconic use of gas-filled tubes for advertising began.

First Neon Sign in the USA

By 1923, the neon sign had made its way to the United States, brought by Earle C. Anthony, a renowned Los Angeles car dealer. This was the first neon sign in America. It was also the first neon sign in Los Angeles, and its bright red glow captivated the public, sparking a craze that grew over time.

From these humble beginnings, neon signs began to spread across the country and become a part of the people’s culture. Neon was used for advertising and decoration, lighting up streetscapes and storefronts across cities.

1920s Neon Signs Boom

In the early 1920s, the use of neon signs exploded across the United States. And as American cities modernized and grew, they began to take on a different look with their neon-lit skylines and cityscapes: neon sign makers also flourished in this decade.

As the popularity of neon gas signs grew, so did their variety and applications. The 1920s neon signs were used for advertising restaurants, bars, and nightclubs – they even began popping up in beauty salons and barber shops.

Later, these signs would reach unprecedented heights in artistry, with manufacturers experimenting with different techniques and materials to create more intricate designs with bolder colors.

When Were Neon Signs Popular?

Neon signs were at the peak of their popularity during the 1920s and 1930s. This was when the signage became a staple of American cities, appearing on almost every street corner in towns across the country.

Neon sign advertising has also become a symbol of modernity and progress in many other parts of the world. Business owners quickly realized that these signs were more eye-catching and effective than traditional forms of advertising, such as billboards.

By the end of the two decades, since the first neon sign had been created, its popularity would wane, but only for a few years. By the 1970s, these signs became popular again, and this trend continued.

Modern neon signs with a touch of antiquity
Modern neon signs with a touch of antiquity

Are Neon Signs Still Made?

Yes, neon signs are still being made. They are still popular and can be seen in countless businesses worldwide, where they remain a timeless advertising option. Neon signage is also making a comeback in modern homes as an eye-catching feature or piece of art.

Modern neon signs still share many of the manufacturing techniques and features as their predecessors: a glass tube filled with a rare gas or gases and bent to the desired shapes, an electrode at either end, a transformer to step up voltage, and a wiring system to connect the sign elements.

That being said, the options for these signs have also grown significantly with the introduction of LED lights. LED neon signs are now readily available, allowing for the same aesthetic properties often associated with traditional neon signs without the hassle and expense of maintaining them.


The history of neon signs is a colorful one. From its simple beginnings in 1912 to its ubiquity during the 1930s and 1940s, neon signage has made an indelible mark on our culture. Even today, they remain popular in businesses worldwide – a testament to the power and longevity of this iconic form of advertising.
Today, neon signs are still used in businesses all around the world. They’re often found in restaurants, bars, other hospitality venues, and retail stores. Their versatility and ability to capture people’s attention make them an effective way to advertise products or services.

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