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Sculpting with light neon

Have you ever been enchanted by the rainbow of lights glowing in a city? All around the world, the splashiest, most colorful lighting often comes from neon (NEE-on).
The Mini Page talked with a neon artist and with the director of the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, to find out more about the art of neon lighting.

Glowing gas

In 1898, two chemists discovered neon, a gas in its natural state. When they sent electricity through the newly discovered gas, it burst into a bright red light. They called the gas "neon" after the Greek word for "new."
It is the fifth most plentiful element, or substance, in the universe. There are only small amounts in the air around the Earth, however.
Neon is one of several gases that light up when an electrical charge passes through them. Other glowing gases include helium, argon and krypton.


About four years after neon was discovered, a French inventor, Georges Claude, built the first neon lamp. His lamp sent electricity through a glass tube holding neon gas.
In 1910, he demonstrated his neon lamps at a big automobile show in Paris. People were delighted.

Signs of the times

In 1923, a Packard car dealership in Los Angeles displayed the first neon signs in America. American business owners realized how fantastic neon was. The bright, colorful signs attracted attention, and people could read them during the day or night.
In the 1920s, electric lighting was still new and wonderful to many Americans. Although most American cities had electricity, most rural, or country, areas did not. Neon lighting was an exciting sign of modern life.
At that time, the middle class was growing. People had more money, they had cars, and many were able to go on vacations. Hotels and restaurants jumped at the chance to attract vacationing motorists with neon signs.
Businesses didn't even need words to advertise. The glowing sign design was often enough.
Some signs were even animated. A neon shirt "danced" at a dry cleaner's. A cowboy reared up on his horse. A woman blew out her birthday candles.
Traveling salesmen sold neon arrows to businesses across the country. By the 1930s and 1940s, most downtowns, even in small towns, had neon signs.